Saturday 27 April 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 27/4/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Read all about it

It’s all about the fine print this weekend as we receive book recommendations that have changed the lives of key figures across the world and catch up with a renowned UK broadcast journalist whose new title explores African history from a fresh perspective. Plus: the Monocle Concierge offers a modern approach to getting the best out of Athens. But first, Andrew Tuck has the latest from the tail end of the month…

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Bringing up the rear

I was in The Monocle Café getting a coffee this week when I fell into conversation with another customer about a bike ride that he’s partaking in for the owners of a brand of fold-up bicycle, the Brompton. The nice barista joined the chat and explained to this café regular that I worked at Monocle and then generously detailed what my role is. He started his introduction with the words, “You know the backside of Monocle?” before quickly adding that the customer might have spotted my name in the rear of one of Monocle’s many books. Anyway, I was beyond delighted with the description and have been owning it all week. I hope that it will, one day, be incorporated into any obituary penned about my demise. “It is with a modicum of sadness that we reveal the death of Andrew Tuck who, for many years, was the backside of Monocle, providing some plump-cheeked cushioning in times of need.”

Talking of dropping dead. Someone else who we knew died recently and, in his final days, did lots of sensible things, including handing over the control of his phone and social-media accounts to his wife. It’s not something that I have ever thought about but it clearly set off a chain of thought for my other half who, this week, organised Legacy Contact Access Keys for our phones, so that, well, we can access each other’s data depending on who goes first (to be clear, I am hanging around and I hope he is too – he still hasn’t tidied his desk for starters). Though why he would ever want to sift through the 53,000 photos that I have amassed, or the 27,000 emails loitering in my inbox (sadly neither figure is made up), I don’t know. Perhaps he’ll just have fun sending some final messages as if from me from beyond the grave.

Enough time has passed for me to tell an amusing story at this juncture. Many years ago, one of our most-loved, if sometimes exuberant, editors had a phase where, if you were away from your desk, he would nip around and type a startling email in your name but then just leave it there, without pressing send. When you returned to your desk, you would spot in horror a missive that, if sent, could have unravelled the last vestiges of your reputation. One time, however, it went a little differently. He typed an email on a momentarily absent colleague’s laptop addressed to our esteemed founder, Mr Brûlé, that read, “I’m bored. What do you do when you have nothing to do?” But then, somehow, he pressed send. Let’s just say that it took some explaining away – and while everyone remained friends, nobody left their laptops unguarded for months after that.

Anyway, back to the backside. I am pleased to say that my name (alongside all the people who did the hard work) managed to sneak into the rear of another Monocle book, the new France: The Monocle Handbook. It’s a hardback beauty as tasty as freshly baked brioche that takes you around the nation to savour its food, architecture, beaches, inns and shops. Over the coming weeks we’ll be announcing launch events and you will also be able to order a copy from The Monocle Shop. It drops on 3 May.

The new May issue of Monocle is also out this week and contains a feature where we have asked 50 people to select one book that they love – new, old, in-print, out-of-print, fiction or factual – and then detail what is so special about it, all in no more than 100 words. What would be your book? The book that you think everyone should know about? Send us your concise recommendations. For the next few weeks, we’ll publish the best suggestions here in The Monocle Weekend Edition. Email us here. There might even be a prize. French and fancy.

Image: Martina Loiola

House news / Salone Satellite

Sights of the universe

In Milan this weekend and looking for an exhibition to take in? Then swing past the Triennale di Milano for the final two days of Universo Satellite, which marks a quarter of a century of Salone Satellite. Established by Marva Griffin Wilshire in 1998, Salone Satellite promotes the work of young designers.

Here, an excerpt from Monocle’s own Salone del Mobile Special newspaper is featured alongside press cuttings, prototypes and drawings that have previously been featured at the furniture fair. Though the exhibition closes tomorrow, it’s the perfect reminder to pick up a copy of our dedicated design publication, which is available on all good newsstands now and, appropriately, includes a reflection on this year’s Salone Satellite.

Pick up a copy of the ‘Salone del Mobile Special’ at all good newsstands or at The Monocle Shop now.

Culture Cuts / Three exhibitions

Top draw

‘Willem de Kooning e l’Italia’, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia, Venice.
Dutch-US expressionist painter Willem de Kooning bookended the 1960s with two trips to Italy. On the first, he met Cy Twombly and experimented with his expressive “Rome” drawings; the second saw him attempt sculpture for the first time. The effect of these brief visits permeated throughout his late career, as this ambitious retrospective illustrates in suitably broad brushstrokes.
Running until 15 September

‘Theaster Gates: Afro-Mingei’, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.
As a committed Japanophile, artist Theaster Gates has brewed his own saké, explored the mingei movement and engaged with Tokoname ceramic traditions across two decades. While the work created for the Chicago-born polymath’s first major exhibition in Japan will reflect a deep love for his host country, don’t expect his art to be watered down. Gates has always responded to such occasions, using his platform to present explorations of Black American identity.
Running until 1 September

Fix: Care and Repair’, Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Design Museum, Helsinki.
This show celebrates the fine art of maintenance, from the careful restoration of buildings to the beauty of the timeworn. Five early-career artists, chosen via an open call, were tasked with expanding the central theme to encompass poetry, architectural theory, social inclusion and more. Their collected works will act as a reminder that maintenance is about more than just quick fixes; it’s about nurturing the good things in life.
Running until 5 January

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Google reviews

One star, would not recommend

It has become reflex, prior to purchasing an unfamiliar product or service, to read the verdicts of those who have gone before you (writes Andrew Mueller). In Japan, a class action suit by doctors and medical corporations is seeking compensation from Google, claiming that unfavourable reviews on Google Maps are denting their revenues.

The obvious response from disgruntled punters may well be: do better and quit whining. But businesses are at a natural disadvantage here. The customer who receives perfectly adequate service, no more or less than they expected, is unlikely to take the time to announce this: think how few social media postings you’ve ever seen rejoicing in the fact that a flight has landed on time. And medical practitioners, as the complainants in this particular case have noted, are further handicapped by the strictures of patient confidentiality: where a publican, mechanic or gardener can reply to a poor online review, for all the good it usually does them, doctors cannot publicly retort that a particular reviewer is a hypochondriac or a lunatic.

Not, of course, that the beleaguered medics would necessarily have any way of knowing who they have upset. Most online reviews are – or can be – effectively anonymous and, such is the online realm now, even those reviewers who do proffer a name and a photo might be imposters. There are good reasons why the critical gatekeepers of traditional media, whether reviewers of restaurants, books or records, have a byline on their copy. Accountability goes both ways.

Image: Shutterstock

Words with… / Zeinab Badawi

Continental shift

Zeinab Badawi is a Sudanese-British broadcast journalist and former presenter of Hard Talk, the BBC’s flagship current-affairs interview programme. Her debut book, An African History of Africa was inspired by her groundbreaking TV series, History of Africa, for which she visited 34 African countries over seven years.

Throughout your career you have spoken to many influential and controversial figures. What’s your approach as an interviewer?
Sometimes, interviewees try to intimidate you. But I am not easily intimidated, if at all. They might try to throw me off by stating that my facts are wrong, so I am always ready to defend my patch with evidence. That said, it is fascinating to engage in dialogue with powerful people. The chance to drill them down on programmes such as BBC’s HardTalk gives you a grasp of who they really are. It’s a good way of assessing whether the person sitting across from you is an impressive personality or has gained their position by accident.

Your new book is a history of Africa, told by Africans. Why is this important?
To this day, much of the material that we read in the West is told from a Western perspective. My book has been translated into nine languages so far, including Portuguese, Italian, Dutch and German – but not yet French. The response from publishers there was that the book didn’t discuss African history from a French perspective. I said to my publisher and agents that this was the whole point. This shows you the climate in which we are still operating today. That in 2024, a leading European country – and one of the major former colonial powers – is still saying that we need a book about Africa, written by a French author to incorporate a French perspective. I found it extraordinarily surprising.

Is there a link between your book and your own history and ancestry?
I was born in Khartoum. Though I moved to the UK as a child, my family has always maintained close ties with Sudan. I am fortunate to have come from a liberal family. My great-grandfather was a pioneer of women’s education in Sudan. During the turn of the 20th century, he established the country’s first school for girls in his own courtyard. At the time, Sudan’s female illiteracy was close to 100 per cent. He was vilified by the local community but he still persisted. He then established more schools for girls and a university for women during the 1960s, both of which still exist. Education is in the family business.

You end the book by talking about the future of Africa. Is it a youthful continent?
Absolutely. The average age in Africa is between 18 and 19 years old. In countries such as Japan or the UK, it’s 40 to 50. Wherever you have so many young people, there is vibrancy; a thirst for entrepreneurship and ambition. I cannot understand how this continent could be consigned to the dustbin of history when it has this amazing demographic boon. Of course, Africa faces many challenges but I believe that, say, in 20 years’ time, it will undergo a significant transformation.

To hear the full interview with Zeinab Badawi, tune in to the latest episode of ‘Meet The Writers’ on Monocle Radio.

The Monocle Concierge / Athens

Greek revival

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.

Dear Concierge,

Any good suggestions for a short trip to Athens, Greece?

Fredrick Wagner

Image: Ama Lachei
Image: Ama Lachei

Dear Fredrick,

The Greek capital has long been a stopover for visitors on their way to the islands. But it’s now home to a growing group of entrepreneurs and creatives who are setting up shop for its food, sun and low cost of living. Bustling Syntagma Square sits at the heart of Athens. Over the years, it has experienced a vast transformation, with the arrival of multi-brand boutiques and brand flagships setting up nearby. Take Zeus+Dione, a luxury label that incorporates Greek design and symbolism into contemporary clothing, all while supporting artisans across the country.

From Syntagma, make your way to Plaka, whose narrow cobblestone streets and colourful shops make it a destination in its own right. Head to Mouki Mou’s new Athens outpost, which offers chic casual wear and handcrafted homeware. And, if you feel like taking a break, the shop’s terrace has one of the best views in the city. For lunch, sample modern Greek cuisine at the Linou Soumpasis and Sia or Ama Lachei (pictured, bottom) in the artsy neighbourhood of Exarchia. If you’re looking for Athenian souvenirs, check out Olgianna Melissinos Sandals, a family-run business that makes some of the best made-to-measure leather sandals in town. For dessert, visit Afoi Asimakopouloi in Charilaou Trikoupi, one of Athens’s oldest confectionery shops, run by the same family since 1915.

There is also an increasing number of green spaces and urban initiatives outside the city centre. It is worth heading to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (pictured, top) in south Athens, which regularly hosts art exhibitions, sports fixtures and cultural events throughout the year. Καλό ταξίδι!


Essential reading

For our May issue, we asked 50 friends of Monocle, drawn from the worlds of design, culture, food and more, to share a book that has shaped their way of thinking. This weekend we showcase five books that offer a snapshot into their readers’ minds. Which titles have left a deep impression on you? As mentioned in The Opener, send us your recommendations here and we will feature some of your best picks next week.

1. Catherine Ashton
‘Essence of Decision’, by Graham Allison.
A brilliant description of the models that we use to make decisions that then help us to make better choices in times of crisis.
Ashton served as the UK’s high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and first vice-president of the European Commission.

2. Kim Jones
‘Orlando’, by Virginia Woolf.
One of my passions is first-edition books, especially those written by Virginia Woolf. I’m very lucky to have Vita Sackville-West’s copy of Orlando, as well as Vanessa Bell’s – the two most important women in Woolf’s life.

Jones is the artistic director of Fendi.

3. Benjamin Moser
‘The Apple in the Dark’, by Clarice Lispector.
The Apple in the Dark, which I translated last year, isn’t for those who like their books nice and easy. It’s a slow and agonising trudge but that is also the whole point. Clarice Lispector makes great demands on the reader but offers great rewards too. Moser is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘Sontag: Her Life and Work’.

4. John Pawson
‘Architecture of Truth’, by Lucien Hervé.
A book that I return to endlessly is Architecture of Truth, Lucien Hervé’s photographic essay about a Cistercian abbey in France. “Light and shade are the loudspeakers of this architecture of truth, tranquillity and strength,” writes Le Corbusier in his preface.
Pawson is an award-winning British architect.

5. Fiona Rogers
‘Scumb Manifesto’, by Justine Kurland.
Photographer Justine Kurland once said that she wanted her collages to be punk but “nothing could be fussier than hours of sustained concentration... trying to create the most beautiful thing possible”. That idea stayed with me – that art could be both angry and quiet, radical and suburban, redefining and reparative.
Rogers is the Parasol Foundation curator of the Women in Photography project at the V&A.

For our full list of books that have touched the lives of Monocle readers, pick up a copy of the latest edition of the magazine. Or subscribe today so that you never miss an issue. Have a great Saturday.


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