Saturday 18 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 18/5/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Turning a page

This week we plan a rambling roadtrip around Puglia, glean inspiration from some of our readers’ favourite books and learn why the key to a longer life might just be having that extra glass of wine. But first, Andrew Tuck with a departure from home – and the friends that come with it.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Pushing up daisies

Summer brings with it a plant-watering ritual that eases my transition from day to evening. I cycle home, open the garage door and pull out the hose (not a euphemism) and, for the pots beyond its trajectory, bring out the watering can. David hears my arrival and unlatches the front door, allowing Macy to run into the mews to greet me. I shout up to the open window of our neighbour Leo’s flat, telling him that I’m back and that he’s needed on hose duty. “I’ll be right down!” he says, poking his head out of the window. Then, the four of us tend to our thirsty verdant friends (frankly, Macy’s input is woeful), while discussing the day and drinking up the compliments from people walking past our floral display. It’s perfect. Except Leo’s gone and spoilt it.

Last Friday, I ditched the other half and went solo to Mallorca; he’s about to be in a play and is banned from leaving the country until July. See ya! On Sunday morning I drove out of Palma, heading eastwards to the town of Felanitx, to explore and use my new camera. Just as the town edged into sight, my phone rang. It was David. I came off the highway and parked in a country lane so that I could answer. His voice was breaking, “Leo’s dead.”

Last week was just a usual week in Leo’s life. Each morning, he got dressed in a perfectly ironed shirt, neatly pressed trousers and a nice pair of loafers, setting off at a measured pace to buy the newspaper and settle down for coffee in one of our neighbourhood cafés. La Fromagerie on Lamb’s Conduit Street was the current clear favourite. It had, after all, organised, with the help of lovely Maggie, a surprise 88th birthday breakfast for him just a couple of weeks ago. Then, during the day, he would no doubt have watched the races, rugby or some gloriously trashy TV. People would have dropped round. And then, later, post-watering, there might have been the ballet, theatre or just a good dinner with his extensive network of friends of all ages.

Just one thing was different. On Saturday he was to have a small lump removed from the back of his head, nothing to worry about. Post-op, with me away, David kept an eye on him and, that evening, went in to see Leo who said that he was feeling a bit rough and was going to get an early night. David phoned him at 6.30 and there was no answer – Leo must be tucked up. Next morning, the phone again went unanswered, so David let himself in. Leo had never moved from the sofa.

We have lived on our street some 19 years but Leo had been resident in his apartment for decades. When we moved in, he was already in his seventies but still working as a butler for a barristers’ chambers. He only gave this up when his knees started giving him gip. This part of his working life came after stints as a dresser for the films at Pinewood Studios and for theatres in the West End (from Noël Coward to Joan Collins, he had met them all).

While there was always friendship and trips to the flower market, it was the coronavirus pandemic that made the connection with Leo special – and not just for us. Our mews pulled together in amazing ways during the lockdowns. A young couple, Matt and Hollie, also adopted Leo. None of us did this because Leo couldn’t cope but because he was fun to be around. We were quite the Covid-era team.

But there was something else. I admired him. His mind was undimmed, his humour razor-sharp, his openness to life astounding. One night, after a theatre excursion, we shared an Uber back to the mews and, during the ride, Leo got talking about how he had left Ireland as a young man, hoping to find work and a better life in London, as well as the prejudice that he had encountered back then. As the car pulled up, the driver, a Somali-born man, turned to Leo and said, “I enjoyed listening to you talk because your story is my story.” Leo put his hand on the man’s shoulder and they shared a moment of recognition and a few gentle words across cultures, ages.

When I got home to the mews on Tuesday night, I stopped for a minute in the road, staring up at Leo’s now-closed window. If I shouted loud enough, might he come downstairs for one final dousing of our shared plants? One last banter. “Leo! I’m home!”

Image: Getty Images

The Look / Political signalling

Image conscious

Post-colonial Africa has an inglorious tradition of rulers who have, despite the poverty of the countries that they govern, conducted themselves in a manner that Louis XIV would have considered gauche (writes Andrew Mueller). One thinks of Emperor Bokassa (pictured – how not to do it) of the then-Central African Empire spending a quarter of the annual national budget on his coronation or Field Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko of the then-Zaire having his birthday cake flown in from Paris on a Concorde. Senegal’s new president, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, clearly has no wish to be mistaken for any such self-indulgent plutocrat. He has reportedly instructed that his arrivals and departures at Dakar’s international airport be conducted without fuss: no red carpets, no brass bands, no retinues of grinning ministers and no ranks of saluting soldiers sweating beneath brass-bedecked hats. The official reasons for this are all common sense: that it costs time and taxpayer money, which could be better spent elsewhere.

But it is also good politics. It’s an easy win for a 44-year-old president who has never before held elected office and is seeking to pitch himself as something different. Signals do matter in politics – and this is a demonstration of Faye’s promise to govern with “humility”, just as the ostentation of earlier African leaders was a means of asserting their superiority. He should be careful not to overdo the hair shirt, however: Mexico’s theatrically austere president, Andres Manuel López Obrador, has famously disdained official aircraft in favour of flying commercial and has experienced and caused delays while doing so. While Faye’s predecessor, Macky Sall, earned considerable opprobrium for the old-school decision to spend €100m of a poor country’s money on a new presidential Airbus A320, it’d be silly not to use it.

Culture cuts / Books special, part 3

New waves

For the third part of our book special, coinciding with Monocle’s May issue 50 book recommendations, we share three more of our subscribers’ favourite reads. They include an ode to life’s beauty, a wanderlust journey across the US in the 1960s and an experimental work from one of the 20th century’s most important modernist writers. We hope you find inspiration in their pages.

‘Les Yeux de Mona’, Thomas Schlesser.
The plot revolves around a young girl who gradually loses her eyesight. Her grandfather is determined to ensure that she experiences the beauty of the world’s greatest artworks before it permanently disappears. It is a celebration of the power of art and the sacrifices that we make for loved ones, as well as a reminder to appreciate the beauty around us. Through her grandfather’s efforts, Mona not only discovers the power of art but also learns about deeper human experiences such as generosity, doubt, melancholy and rebellion. It is a book to cherish. I have “sold” it to many friends already.
Françoise Birnholz, Küsnacht, Switzerland

‘Travels with Charley: In Search of America’, John Steinbeck.
This is a 1962 travelogue across America. The author takes us from Long Island, New York to Maine, Texas, California and then back to the start. I have read this book multiple times through the years. Both hopeful and melancholy, it is a great reminder of how to connect with humanity at a basic level. We are all travelling along the road of life and the journey will end at some point. Until then, there is a lot of listening and learning to do.
Mark Kuhlman, Cincinnati, USA

‘The Waves’, Virginia Woolf.
This intriguing tale tells the story of six characters and the dynamic of their friendship as it evolves from childhood to old age. No direct conversation takes place; instead, the narrative is presented through a series of interior monologues. The thoughts and emotions that they experience give us a glimpse of their distinct personalities. Each chapter begins with a description of the waves on the shore, evoking the characters’ changing moods and the passage of time.
Elizabeth Wood, Vancouver, BC, Canada

If you would like to share your favourite book with us, get in touch here. We will publish our final three next week.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Live long and prosper

Reeling in the years

All anyone wanted to know at the Longevity Med Summit in Lisbon last week was, “How much longer do I have left?”(writes Alexis Self). For the speakers – a parade of brilliant-teethed and ochre-tanned MDs – the answer was, invariably, not long enough: the programme was running way behind schedule. For the punters too, most of whom were also from the “wellness” industry, there was a general sense of time running out. Lectures with titles such as “Exponential tech as determinant to change from a reactive medicine to a proactive self-decided longevity pathway” were pored over by note-scribbling attendees.

For all the space-age hyperbaric chambers, however, there was a healthy focus on enjoyment. Longevity is usually measured in quantitative terms but there is a growing awareness that qualitative factors, such as friendship, leisure and, dare I say it, fun, matter almost as much as eating well, sleeping and getting a good amount of exercise. None of the speakers were exhorting the life-enhancing properties of a crisp glass of wine and a Marlboro Light but, as one distinguished whitecoat put it, “Some of these people are so concerned with living for 100 years that they forget to live for today.” While many of the treatments being touted ran into the tens of thousands of euros, it was heartening to know that the medical industry hadn’t yet found a way to monetise one’s social life. You can drink to that.

The Monocle Concierge / Puglia, Italy

Life’s a beach

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: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

Dear Concierge,

I’d love some ideas for a meandering week spent bopping around Puglia in early June. Thank you.

Megan Ellis

Dear Megan,

Puglia is known for its revamped masserie (fortified farmhouses), a perfect base from which to explore the region and familiarise yourself with the regional way of life. Smaller guesthouses such as Masseria Moroseta in Ostuni make for a charming stay. Start your journey in the village of Alberobello to admire its trulli, unique limestone dwellings with corbelled roofs. From there, head to Castel del Monte, where you can see its imposing 13th-century citadel and castle, and Ostuni, nicknamed “the white city” for its striking whitewashed buildings. For beach views, visit the small city of Polignano a Mare, which is set between cliffs that dip into the water, or Baia dei Turchi near Otranto, which offers pristine sandy shores. Gallipoli is a favoured destination among residents, particularly the Punta della Suina bay.

Puglia also boasts delicious local cuisine. Some highlights include panzerotti, fried turnovers filled with tomato sauce and cheese, and savoury biscuits known as taralli. Putignano has some of the best options for sampling the region’s traditional orecchiette pasta, from the Michelin-starred Angelo Sabatelli restaurant to the renowned Osteria Botteghe Antiche. Enjoy!

Image: Jagoda Wisniewska

Words with… / Catherine Rénier

Turning back the clock

Catherine Rénier is the CEO of luxury watchmaker Jaeger LeCoultre, owned by Swiss group Richemont. Here, she tells us about the maison’s participation in London Craft Week, the state of the luxury-watch market and the changing function of the watch today.

Jaeger LeCoultre made its first appearance at London Craft Week this year. Why is the event important for the brand?
Craftsmanship has always been important to Jaeger LeCoultre; our manufacturing heritage is more than 190 years old. This has not only encouraged us to train new artisans in watchmaking but also educate them about the art form through exhibitions, demonstrations and workshops. London Craft Week is a way for us to showcase this.

What percentage of the business is represented by women’s watches?
The women’s market accounts for half of our business, which is a larger percentage than most luxury-watch brands. We have created timepieces for women since 1929. Our Reverso watch from 1931 was originally made for polo players but it turned into a design icon for both men and women.

How has the function of watches evolved?
Before digital tools for measuring time were invented, watches were extremely important. Nowadays, you don’t need them to tell the time – and, often, people who wear them don’t actually use them for this function. Watches are increasingly becoming art objects.

Which market trends are you focusing on at the moment?
Performance is the most important aspect of any watch. Each model needs to be resistant, precise and undergo testing before it’s released. The younger generation is also becoming more interested in luxury watches. We experienced this during Geneva’s Watches and Wonders fair. I think that this is because timepieces represent an emotional journey for the wearer: the look, the style, the décor, the craftsmanship, the heritage of the brand. In that sense, it appeals to a new audience. Watches still need to perform well but artistic expression is becoming increasingly important.

For more timely ideas and thought-provoking conversation, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Monocle. Or subscribe today so that you never miss an issue. Have a great Saturday.


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