Saturday 25 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 25/5/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Sound bites

This week we pick up a vinyl with our coffee on a sunny tour of Zagreb, sharpen our world-view with some of our readers’ favourite books and slip into light linens courtesy of our sartorial edit. Plus: capturing the sound of creativity with one of the world’s most renowned singer-songwriters. But first, Andrew Tuck reports from les rues de Paris...

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

French fancy

It’s Thursday night and a team dinner in Paris. We’re back at Loulou, the restaurant that hosted the welcome reception for Monocle’s Quality of Life Conference in 2022. This time we are not on their alfresco terrace, with its views of the Louvre on one side and the sparkling Eiffel Tower on the other, but rather cosy indoors instead. It has been a soggy week in much of Europe – no need for anyone to be watering the plants.

There’s a snap to Loulou: service happens at a clip but not in a harried way. The staff are plentiful and cool. Our waiter lists the specials like he’s doing a rap and, across the arc of our dinner, he delivers menus, plates and drinks with a flourish. He’s enjoying taking care of us, putting on a show. And he can do all of this, he later tells us, in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese.

We are in Paris, some 10 of us, because we are producing a special-edition Paris newspaper and opening an office in the city. While Tyler and Anna have been in town to organise everything from contracts to carpets, I am here, mostly, to meet potential hires. As the business expands, it’s also something that I have been doing a lot in London. You meet great people – clever, highly educated, ambitious. But often when you read a CV, there’s something else that makes you wonder if this could be the person that we are looking for. If, among all the glowing academic achievements and volunteering for good causes, they also list with pride a stint as a waiter or in retail, then your hopes rise.

Working at Monocle, as at many companies, requires a rich suite of skills. On the editorial team we obviously want people who can write, edit and make good radio shows but you also want to have people with some of our waiter’s performance skills. People who can get up on a stage to interview an architect, host a lunch with an embassy delegation, overcome the shyness that we all feel on occasion to engage with a room full of guests – make people know that they are welcome. These are traits that waiters and shop assistants develop over time (well, the good ones), so you often find yourself quizzing a candidate about this seemingly modest entry on their CV as much as about their current employment.

Though, I am not sure my stints in the world of hospitality would merit too much interrogating. I worked in a bar but often seemed to end up with ridiculous quantities of foam on the pints that I pulled; they looked more like whipped-cream-topped desserts. I was a better waiter but the manager would have to remind me that, while people liked a friendly server, they didn’t want one who seemed eager to pull up a chair and join their conversation.

Being in Paris has been restorative. I took the train from London with our editor, Josh, creative director, Rich, and photography director, Matt. Just a couple of hours after leaving London, we were sitting having lunch in the vast dining room of the Bouillon Chartier Grands Boulevards, eating escargot and drinking the house wine. Walking between appointments, we found a moment to drop into the Pinault Collection at the Bourse de Commerce and marvel at Tadao Ando’s transformation of the building. We also took reference photos of new shops and hotels. Just stepping away from your usual routine gives you perspective and enables you to see clearly.

Our new Paris office promises to shape our perspective in a more permanent way, delivering new views and ideas. And, after the past few days, it’s clear that the team will be finding lots of excuses to be in the city. Though there’s still a hire or two to confirm before everything falls into place. I wonder if our waiter has a good knowledge of French foreign policy and perhaps a good take on the nation’s cultural scene? This morning, everything seems possible.

Image: Getty Images

The Look / Chinese outerwear

The great outdoors

I recently took a trip to a tier-three Chinese city close to Chongqing (writes James Chambers). While visiting the bona fide backwater, I was taken aback by a middle-aged man in a wetsuit, navigating the waters of the Yangtze river on a paddleboard. Later that day, I spotted him on the riverbank, stripped to the waist, proudly cleaning his board, as weather-beaten members of the local swimming club looked on. In Shanghai and other wealthy coastal cities, the growth of outdoor activities has been taking off; high heels are out and Stanley cups are in. But, clearly, this shift from luxury to leisure is being experienced inland too. On the same visit, I saw another working-age man servicing his expensive-looking mountain bike and came to the aid of several families struggling with the latest must-have accessory: a tent. Nowadays most tents are pop-up but even assembling the poles and pegs for the front porch can prove difficult for first-time campers. Chinese consumer behaviour is provoking a lot of head scratching, no more so than in Hong Kong.

Visitors from the mainland are swapping luxury boutiques, five-star hotels and pricey restaurants for camping on the beach, picnics on the harbourfront and posing for pictures on precarious hiking trails. It would be too simplistic to explain this development as penny pinching during an economic downturn; more than 30 years of double-digit growth does not disappear overnight. The Chinese middle classes have plenty of money in the bank, they just want to spend it on experiences instead – a trend that we have seen in wealthy Asian countries such as South Korea. This is an elevation of consumption rather than its degradation, as some have labelled it. It also opens up a new market in China for outdoor and athleisure brands that can tap into the consumer desire to be active – or at least look the part on social media.


Beach reads and beyond

For the final part of our books special, drawn from the 50 book recommendations featured in Monocle’s May issue, we share three more of our subscribers’ favourite reads. Thank you to all those who responded. Monocle has certainly found lots of great beach companions for the summer ahead. We hope you do too.

‘The Long Shot: The Inside Story of the Race to Vaccinate Britain’, Kate Bingham & Tim Hames.
Having read Andrew Tuck’s recent Saturday missive, I must say that I often feel the need to apologise for the state of the UK, not only for our infrastructure but so much more besides. We should give praise to the country where it’s due, however. And here is a book that highlights a rare success story from the coronavirus pandemic. It provides a blueprint for industry, academia and government on how to collaboratively address globally important issues. There are great lessons to be learned for future crises.
Andy Bracewell, UK

‘The Moon and Sixpence’, William Somerset Maugham.
A middle-class stockbroker abandons his comfortable life, wife and family to face poverty, illness and discomfort in order to pursue his true calling as an artist. This book offers a life lesson on the importance of pursuing what we believe we should be doing. But it also asks whether or not going to extremes really matters. It’s an essential read. If The Monocle Book of Gentle Living had a sibling, this would be it.
Michael Ferri, Melbourne, Australia

‘Grand Hotel Europa’, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer.
In Grand Hotel Europa, Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer takes us to Genoa, Venice, Cinque Terre, Malta and Palmaria, among others. Behind these pages filled with beauty, humour and characters are serious questions about love, European identity, politics, immigration and the damage wrought by tourism. It’s a book that continues to haunt me three years after reading it.
Marie-Josée Gagné, Québec, Canada

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon


Eyes on the ball

The English Premier League’s (EPL) Wolverhampton Wanderers should be everyone’s second-favourite team (writes Andrew Mueller). At Wolves’s prompting, on 6 June the EPL will vote on scrapping video assistant referees (or, as they’re better known, often preceded by an expletive, VAR). The objections to VAR that Wolves have adumbrated include delays to the game, the dilution of celebrations and a diminishment of the match officials’ authority. These are reasonable grounds for VAR’s abolition but a bigger point has still been missed. The joy of following sport – and especially of following a particular sports team – is the liberation of being passionately invested in something that we cannot control. The folly of VAR is that it assumes that anything that happens on a football field is important. It isn’t – and, to be clear, this is a sports fan writing.

Clubs and players might retort that it is important; that results, seasons, careers and fortunes can be made or undone by an incorrect decision at a crucial juncture. But that’s their problem. The priority should always be the fans who pay for the spectacle. Aside from anything else, complaining about the ineptitude, corruption and/or eyesight of match officials is a considerable component of their enjoyment. It has been said often and accurately that sport does not build character but reveals it. What is revealed of advocates of VAR or similar nonsense is not attractive. Petty stickling in this context is a fetish of the lemon-sucking dullard. It’s a game, not a murder trial.

Image: Alamy


Culture capital

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,

My sisters and I are heading to Zagreb for a few days. Which sites, shops and restaurants should we go to?

Kate Marshall,

Dear Kate,

Meandering between coffee shops is part of Zagreb life. Start at Ban Jelacic Square, the city’s central gathering place. You can try classic Croatian confectionary along with a cup of coffee at Kras Choco&Cafe.

Pop up the stairs at the back of the square to Dolac Market to see traditional retail in full swing. Then wander down the pedestrianised Tkalciceva street for lunch. Local burger and craft-beer chain Submarine is a reliable option but there are plenty of other choices, plus coffee and cake, at the quirkily designed Kava Tava.

From there, head up the hill to Zagreb’s beautiful Upper Town. You can gawp at St Mark’s Church, the Croatian Parliament and Ban’s Court or simply stroll along Strossmayer Promenade, taking in views across the city. While you are there, visit one of the capital’s many unusual cultural centres; the Museum of Broken Relationships is the best and can be surprisingly moving.

Then take the funicular down to the shops. Croatia claims to have invented the neck-tie, so pick up a handmade example at Kravata Zagreb. Aquarius Records is an excellent stop-off for vinyl-lovers and releases compilations of the best new Croatian music. Bonkulovic Delikatese stocks some of the world’s best olive oil, as well as an array of sweet and savoury treats.

Try Vodnjanka for dinner, which offers a taste of coastal Istria in the heart of the city. Or make for Le Bistro Esplanade, nearby Zagreb station, for the kind of indulgent experience once reserved for passengers of the Orient Express.

Image: Alamy


Bright lights, big city

Richard Thompson, the influential British folk singer-songwriter who made his name as lead guitarist of Fairport Convention, will celebrate his 75th birthday at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 8 June. Here, he reflects on the highs and lows of six decades in the music business and the challenges of teaching the craft to aspiring musicians.

Your album ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’ is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. How do you feel about this?
I received a bunch of nice reviews in strange places. I’m proud of that record but it got neglected at the time. At some point during the digital streaming age, people started to notice the album, as well as those of lots of other artists from the 1960s, who, at the time, didn’t sell many records.

Did the experience of writing your own story in your memoir, ‘Beeswing’, surprise you?
A lot of things surprised me. It’s a bit disturbing to go into detail in that way. It’s hard to deal with the darker stuff; there are things that you really don’t want to address but your publisher wants you to write about. Our drummer died in an accident in 1969. We didn’t deal with the trauma in the same way that you would deal with it today. As a band, Fairport Convention made bad decisions for the next couple of years. We were all suffering in silence.

Both your son and grandson will be joining you on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. Is the band a bit of a dynasty now?
Yes. My grandson, Zak Hobbs, is in my band now. He’s a very good guitar player. I didn’t encourage him but I didn’t discourage him. I just left him to it and he picked it up himself. I like to tell people that he and my son, Teddy Thompson, have stolen everything from me though.

You’re also a teacher at a songwriting camp. How do you teach someone to write a memorable song?
We teach a sort of philosophy. We help people to get to a place of inspiration, where creativity is tangible, where you can pull it down from the sky or you can lower a bucket into the well and pull something out. I think that’s more useful. You can definitely teach people courage; to be unafraid of being creative. That’s a big one. Creativity is a wonderful thing and all human beings are capable of it; sometimes they just have to sidestep their logical brain.


Life’s a breeze

Italian menswear and accessories brand Luca Faloni’s dedication to preserving tailoring traditions makes it a go-to for any summer wardrobe (writes Lucrezia Motta). The label opened its first flagship shop in Zürich this month in a quaint two-storey townhouse, hosting an extensive collection of breezy shirts and elegant linen suits that will look great paired with a terrasse and a spritz.

Image: Luca Faloni
Image: Luca Faloni


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