Saturday 13 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/4/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

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This week we splash out on a trip to Thailand for the country’s annual water festival, before planning a sunny summer getaway to Berlin. Then, eccentric art duo Gilbert & George paint a picture of their new London exhibition space, while Hermès reveals its latest watch in Geneva – it was about time. But first, Andrew Tuck takes a seat at the dinner table…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

All part of the plan

“I sat next to this woman at dinner and she said…” When you hear a friend giddily retelling the life story of someone they met over a prawn cocktail the night before, you can be sure that the host took great care in deciding who should sit where and deliberated over which of their guests might hit it off – and who, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, should be seated as far away from each other as possible. They had no doubt written place cards to ensure that all of their guests knew their spot and didn’t have to awkwardly find a spare seat with that sad phrase, “Do you mind if I sit here?” There’s a certain amount of plotting and consideration that goes into creating a sense of effortlessness and spontaneity.

Table seating is a skill that I don’t have to stress about in my personal life – a dining table for eight (at a push) requires little in the way of social engineering. This week, however, Monocle hosted a dinner in Zürich for some core readers: our Patrons. In the hours leading up to this fun night, I watched my colleague Hannah inscribe name cards for all of our guests. They were carefully organised so that everyone would meet someone new while never being far from one of our team who could help to anchor conversations and make introductions if needed.

Anyway, I have been retelling the stories from my table neighbours’ lives all week: of the gentleman who, as a teenager, started an olive-exporting business and learnt some important life lessons along the way; of the woman who, with her partner, has bought out a series of companies in the past year in diverse sectors but which share a common trait – one that promises to deliver very healthy returns. We also talked about dogs, the US election, South Tyrol and China, food for children, hospitality, partners and passions. In between, looking down the long table in either direction, I saw that the whole room was alive with jollity and conversation. And those little name cards had played no small part in bringing people together.

I have also been to dinners where things went awry. First, the table can become an enemy of conversation. If it’s too grand and wide, it precludes cross-table banter, leaving you dependent on your neighbours being both fascinating and chatty. Worse is when you find yourself seated between two broad-backed gents who are determined to chat up the women sitting next to them. You are alone in a “meat canyon”, either drinking too fast or wondering if you might be able to nip to the bathroom and, en route, escape into the night. This is where a good host can intervene, circulating the table to save the conversationally isolated, pulling up a chair between courses to refocus the room. And by dessert, I think it’s fair for all bets to be off: swapping is to be encouraged (seats, not partners). What follows is a pleasant unravelling.

Anyway, the morning after our dinner at the Oxen in Küsnacht, I got to thinking about how we have come good on our hope of fostering a community. While Monocle is often the initial host, it’s not a one-way relationship. At that dinner there were readers who have become part of my personal world – who have invited me to their homes, who I have been to dinner with in cities around the globe, who have provided so many good tips for stories. But it was also striking how many of them now have become interconnected too. And it all, perhaps, started with a conversation at one of Monocle’s well-seated dinners that was meaningful enough for them to say to their friends, “You’ll never guess who I met last night…”

Image: Getty Images

The Look / Army beards

Taking it on the chin

Beards have been the most doggedly maintained prohibition in the British Army for more than a century (writes Andrew Mueller). It has been decades since any formal barriers to the army were maintained on the grounds of race, 16 years since uniformed British soldiers first marched in the London Pride parade and eight years since women were permitted to serve in front-line combat roles. Throughout all of that progress towards inclusivity, however, reporting for parade unshaven was still liable to result in the errant soldier peeling spuds while ruefully contemplating the importance of the correct deportment.

Until now. The British Army has given up defending the pristine chin, as long as soldiers do not allow their facial hair to grow untowardly feral. The policy change appears to be a recognition of two factors. First, a narrow majority of men in the UK presently sport facial hair of some kind and a sergeant-major brandishing a razor at them might hinder recruitment. Second, the policy was only the way it was because it had always been like that. It remains to be seen whether this liberalisation will encourage patriotic hipsters to enlist. If that does prove the case, it must be hoped that a rigorously forbidding attitude is maintained towards fedoras and ukuleles.

Culture cuts / TV detectives

Knife in the water

‘Ripley’, Netflix.
Andrew Scott plays suave sociopath Tom Ripley in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr Ripley. Its eight episodes follow Ripley’s journey from the US to Italy, where he becomes embroiled in fraud, murder and deceit.
‘Ripley’ is out now.

‘Sugar’, Apple TV+.
Colin Farrell has been busy. As well as working on Batman spin-off The Penguin, which will be released later this year, he stars in (and produced) Sugar, a subversive series about a private detective investigating the disappearance of a Hollywood producer’s granddaughter.
‘Sugar’ is out now.

‘3 Body Problem’, Netflix.
The long-awaited follow-up project from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and DB Weiss promises to be a sprawling, highly ambitious sci-fi epic. Based on a Hugo Award-winning book trilogy by Chinese writer Liu Cixin, it begins with the story of an astrophysicist who witnesses the murder of her father during China’s Cultural Revolution. It then shifts gears to become a wild ride encompassing conspiracies, plenty of weird science and an impending alien invasion.
‘3 Body Problem’ is out now.

For more cultural recommendations, pick up a copy of Monocle’s April issue, which is out now.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Songkran

Blast from the past

In preparation for Thailand’s annual water-splashing festival, Songkran, which begins today, I recently found myself in a toy shop, joining a queue of dads who were eagerly waiting to handle the latest must-have pistol: a Playpop electric water blaster with a staggering eight-metre range (writes James Chambers). I must admit that, for a brief moment, high on dopamine and low on other gifting ideas, I almost pulled the transactional trigger. Plastic pistols weren’t this smooth or stylish in my day and they certainly didn’t come with a rechargeable lithium battery inside. But the real reason that I put the water blaster back on the shelf was the thought of it joining our pile of USB clutter at home.

Carrying an electric fan in Bangkok’s scorching summer heat is just about acceptable but there’s no need for water pistols to go electric. Unlike cars, there is no dirty technology to replace. The same goes for suitcases. On my way to the departure gate at Hong Kong airport last month, I was passed at waist height by a fully grown, able-bodied adult male riding on his electric carry-on suitcase. One of the airside gadget shops was selling this “smart riding luggage” on promotion for about €475 – proof that the cost-of-living crisis is not a universal drag on daft purchases. There are environmental benefits to high energy costs: Hong Kong and Bangkok are among the Asian cities with subsidised electricity and the availability of cheap power could be fuelling demand for this unnecessary garbage. My son, I’m happy to report, was delighted to unwrap his hand-powered Nerf Super Soaker and drench people the old-fashioned way. That plonker on the electric suitcase would have made a great moving target.

Words with / Gilbert & George

Living for the city

Gilbert & George are a contemporary-art duo made up of Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, whose career spans more than 50 years. Their work is typified by colourful prints, sketches and their “living statues” performance art. Their output, which has earned them worldwide recognition, is often provocative and always eccentric. This week, Monocle met them at their new exhibition space on Brick Lane in London to talk about their show, London Pictures, which celebrates the city.

How did the ‘London Pictures’ series begin?
George: It all started when we realised that we could steal newspaper posters from outside newsagents. That forms the basis of the work. In the end, we collected 3,700 of them.
Gilbert: They tell an amazing story. We spent about two or three years gathering them. When they are displayed together, they form a kind of cityscape.
George: All we did was divide them into subjects.

What kind of city do the pictures show?
George: Though the images are of London, the series could be called “City Pictures” or “World Pictures”. The themes of violence and morality that are explored are universal.

How have international viewers received the show?
George: We have received love letters from countries that we have never visited.
Gilbert: And from a lot of prisoners.
George: Prisoners can identify with our art’s message of freedom.

What about your next project?
George: We have just started working on seven new pictures. They’re top-secret but the names of the artworks will be “Bolted”, “We Skate”, “Screw You”, “Just Eat”, “Manga One”, “Four Straws” and “Cross Screwed”.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Gilbert: We are constantly thinking and trying to get a feel for the world. It is very simple.
George: We aren’t completely braindead yet. We read our newspapers in the morning, then the day begins.
Gilbert: Then we work on new pictures and have thoughts about our artwork, and how to promote it.
George: And we also ponder the time-honoured question, “What do we want to say to the world today?”

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

Art of the matter

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Image: Alamy, Thomas Meyer, Franz Grünewald
Image: Alamy, Thomas Meyer, Franz Grünewald
Image: Alamy, Thomas Meyer, Franz Grünewald

Dear Concierge,

I’m heading to Berlin for a conference this summer. Could you kindly recommend some intriguing places to visit and restaurants to dine in? Thank you.

Fan Yang,

Hi Fan,

Berlin shows its best side in summer and you can easily soak it in, even on a work trip. For a quick dose of culture, head to the Neue Nationalgalerie (pictured, middle), which was renovated in 2021. The exhibitions in Mies van der Rohe’s glass pavilion are always excellent. Then head to the nearby Potsdamer Strasse, where you can browse the racks at the expertly curated Andreas Murkudis (pictured, bottom), and gallery-hop from Esther Schipper and Tanya Leighton to Galerie Molitor. Wrap things up at Das Kleine Grosz Museum, where you’ll find a small permanent exhibition of the works of illustrator George Grosz, housed in a former petrol station. Alternatively, if you want to get out of the bustle, head east along the river to Spreepark Artspace, a new open-air creative site and restaurant next to a long-abandoned GDR-era amusement park. Or, for a much-needed dose of post-conference R&R, we would recommend a dip at the Badeschiff pool (pictured, top), whose bathing season extends from May to September.

For dining, sample Berlin’s recent crop of laid-back spots opened by some of the city’s best restaurateurs. Enjoy Weissbier and gherkins at Trio, a new restaurant in Mitte that looks like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Julius in Wedding serves the city’s best omelette during the day and a Japanese-inspired set menu in the evening. On a warm night, it’s hard to beat Ember, a restaurant dedicated to open-fire cooking, which is half-hidden on a rooftop in Kreuzberg. Just remember to reserve a spot well in advance.

Image: Hermès

Wardrobe update / HERMÈS CUT

Matter of time

This week, Hermès debuted its new Cut watch at Geneva’s Watches & Wonders fair. The piece highlights the watchmaking ambitions of the brand, which is primarily known for its leather goods. The Cut, which is already available to buy at Hermès boutiques, has the potential to become a new classic. It’s as elegant as it is practical, featuring a rounded bezel and clean edges that inspired its name.

You can also choose from a range of interchangeable metal and rubber straps inspired by the bold, primary colours of the label’s leather creations. Look out for smart design details, from the custom-made geometrical typeface to the case, which has been satin-brushed and polished for a smooth finish.

For more timely recommendations and inspiring stories, pick up the April edition of Monocle. Or subscribe today so that you never miss an issue. Have a great Saturday.


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