Saturday 1 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 1/6/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Catch of the day

In this week’s missive, we indulge in oysters and pisco sours for alfresco aperitivi in San Francisco and perch on Seoul’s riverbanks for a deep dive into outdoor swimming. Plus: we meet a leading figure of Georgia’s opposition movement and slip into summer sandals courtesy of our sartorial edit. First up, it’s our editor in chief with what we can learn from communicating across divides.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Opener / Andrew Tuck

Bridging the gap

Bratislava played host to an urbanism conference called Start with Children this week. The Slovak capital’s mayor, Matus Vallo, had pushed to organise the event because he’s ambitious about delivering change to this city of some 425,000 souls. But he also wants Bratislava to lead, to be known for something that will stand the test of time. “We’re never going to be famous for our food because most of it was invented in Vienna,” he said, referring to his nation’s time as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. “And we’re not going to be famous for our statues or monuments when Prague and Budapest are nearby,” he told the audience – only half-jokingly. Putting children at the heart of urban planning could be something that the city comes to own.

I first met Vallo a few years ago at an event in Prague, then did a story on his work as mayor and, finally, dragged him along to The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Munich as a speaker, where he was a hit: straightforward, passionate, good trainers. His career as an architect and rock-band member only adds to the effect that he has. So when he asked whether I would host a session at his summit, I was happy to return, especially when my line-up of panellists would include the mayors of Warsaw, Gdansk and Tirana, the deputy mayor of Reykjavik, and, of course, Vallo.

The event was held inside the restored, old market hall and was packed with some 600 people who came to hear from practitioners and leaders from around the world. Danish architect and planner Jan Gehl, now 87, was in conversation with Amanda Burden, former New York planning commissioner and now principal at Bloomberg Associates. They received the sort of welcome usually reserved for popstars. Speaker after speaker made the argument that if you design streets where children feel safe, everyone feels safe. If you calm and remove traffic to protect youngsters, we all gain from it.

But it’s not that simple. Taking parking spaces away and inserting more bicycle lanes has the ability to polarise people, provoking anger and mayhem. As one of the speakers said, everyone is up for change as long as it doesn’t involve them changing. And this is where the children come in because, when the debate is dropped to knee-height, you can start building consensus – well, sometimes. When you remove the risk of a child being killed by a car, diminish the chance of them suffering from asthma, then the debate becomes easier.

I am not sure, however, that being a mayor is much fun. After our conversation with Tirana’s mayor, Erion Veliaj, he disappeared to take a call. Demonstrators had turned up outside his office to throw Molotov cocktails (he also showed the audience an image of a demonstrator pulling out a gun at a demo against a playground being built). Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the mayor of Gdansk, talked with pride about how her city is transforming but she came to power after her predecessor, Pawel Adamowicz, was murdered in a knife attack. Rafal Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, had to do daily battle with central government before voters put pay to the populist Law and Justice government last year.

There were lots of sunnier successes to champion too. Dagur Eggertsson, deputy mayor of Reykjavik, spoke about working across divides and about how, in a generation, his city had gone from having Europe’s highest teenage drinking rates to its lowest. It was all done through a range of simple measures, including keeping the famous thermally heated swimming pools open later so that teenagers had a place to hang out – device free. Cheers to that.

Bratislava will host the conference again next year and, in a world where consensus is hard to build, perhaps talking across the divide could also be Vallo’s ambition. Slovakia, like everywhere, needs this.

From Bratislava, I made the 40-minute journey to Vienna to catch my flight south to Palma. A family of four boarded and, while the parents and elder daughter sat in one row, their son, perhaps seven years old, was marooned behind them, perched between me and another woman. He unpacked a range of gadgetry and kept himself entertained with some war game all the way south. I would have told him about the conference, about why he needs to cycle to school, about his bright future. But he was too busy killing people.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

The Look / Towel it up

It’s a wrap

Being beach-ready, pool-poised and summer-sprung requires more than having completed a couple of press-ups in May after a martini-free Lent (writes Robert Bound). It’s what you wear and how you wear it that really matters. This season, there’s an option that appears to have crept up on us from behind, specifically the 1960s. Towelling, that thick cotton with a soft nap used for its namesake and hotel bathrobes, has returned to men’s and women’s casual wear as temperatures rise and the gaze turns away from the insulating fabrics of winter. Towelling is high-summer: unstructured, retro, super-soft, at the slouchy end of sporty and beautifully cooling. Japan’s towelling town is Imabari on Shikoku island; Imabari-brand T-shirts are a must-buy for the summer humidity. Orlebar Brown’s polos in candy colours deserve an Adriatic airing, while Drake’s towelling jacket with breast pockets offers more than a whiff of safari-on-the-beach. Why not stroll it through its paces on the Côte d’Azur? Nice.

The retro element comes courtesy of two film legends with very different sorts of 1960s heartthrob status. In Plein Soleil, the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, Alain Delon (pictured) kept his Amalfi schemes under a beautiful navy-towelling shirt that appeared to have faulty buttons. No one seemed to mind. Sean Connery’s James Bond teetered on the precipice of camp in an all-in-one baby-blue, belted-and-zipped towelling playsuit in Goldfinger but pulled it back by uncovering and seducing the supervillain’s card-marking blonde. Bond, presumably, didn’t have it zipped for long. So, this season, keep it cool, keep it casual and make it totally towelling under your share of summer sunshine.

Culture Cuts / Hay Festival

Hitting the write notes

Hay Festival, one of the UK’s most important literary events, runs until this Sunday on the banks of the river Wye in Wales. Monocle Radio presenter and Meet the Writers host Georgina Godwin shares three of her favourite books from this year’s gathering.

‘What Will Survive of Us’, Howard Jacobson.
From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Finkler Question, this is a tenderly crafted exploration of mature love and the importance of words and literature, with an imaginary dog and a brief foray into sex clubs.

‘The Spoiled Heart’, Sunjeev Sahota.
An explosive state-of-the-nation novel about family, secrets, love, and community. The contemporary story highlights the inequities of modern life and explores a tragedy with long-lasting consequences.

‘My Family and Other Rock Stars’, Tiffany Murray.
A unique story of growing up around a recording studio in the countryside, frequented by musicians such as Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. It’s an enchanting tale seen through the eyes of a child, where encountering a group of Hells Angels was as normal as homework and bedtime.

Image: Getty Images

How we live / Swimming for the Seoul

In at the deep end

Studies say that living near a body of water bolsters wellbeing (writes Jeyup S Kwaak). This should mean that Seoul, a city bisected by the 1km-wide Han river, has a vein of happiness running through it. But for years the city’s nearly 10-million-strong population has been forced to enjoy it from the sidelines. While the people of Switzerland and Austria have long been bathing in Lake Zürich or the Danube, South Koreans have been barred from swimming in its best-known waterway, due to concerns about safety and water quality.

All the while, municipal pools are often full to the gunwales. Seoul’s mayor, Oh Se-hoon, wants to change that. Today and tomorrow, the city is hosting 10,000 citizens for a triathlon, where participants are allowed to swim across the Han. Oh will also attempt the event, while less competent swimmers can complete this section of the race in a riverside pool. Remaining doubts over water quality have been proved unfounded by multiple checks that have taken place since April. Swimming is already popular in South Korea and its appeal could soar if citizens are given more opportunities to partake in it. A shortage of pools means that the sport is only available to about 8 per cent of the population. Here’s hoping that the event instigates a deeper dive into Seoul’s swimming culture.

Image: UNM

Words with… / Tinatin Bokuchava

Rocking the vote

Tinatin “Tina” Bokuchava is a Georgian member of parliament and chair of the United National Movement, the largest of the country’s many opposition parties. A longtime critic of the governing Georgian Dream party, she has been at the forefront of recent protests against the nation’s new “foreign agents” law, which the EU has warned could jeopardise its path to membership. Here, she tells Monocle about Georgia’s forthcoming elections, the will of the people and the country’s relationship with Europe.

You’ve described this new law as ‘Kremlin-inspired’. Is Georgian Dream doing Russia’s bidding or does it have its own reasons for passing the bill?
A similar law was adopted in Russia in 2012, which tightened the Kremlin’s grip on civil society and media. We believe that this is the objective here. It also demonstrates a clear shift in Georgia’s foreign policy. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Russian-made oligarch [and former prime minister of Georgia] who calls the important shots on behalf of the government, openly announced the repressions that this law intends to bring about. He didn’t mince his words; he was unequivocal that this is the purpose of the law.

Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Kobakhidze, has said that there will be ‘no Maidan’ in Tbilisi, a clear reference to Ukraine’s revolution of 2014. Are you concerned about whether anger within the country can be contained?
Important elections will take place in Georgia in October. It’s the role and responsibility of politicians to ensure that the will of the people is expressed at the ballot box. In his recent speech, Ivanishvili expressed hope that this energy would dissipate leading up to the elections. We have witnessed widespread suppression and beatings. It’s clear that Kobakhidze is trying to win the forthcoming election through violence, silencing and intimidating the Georgian people into a position where they accept the status quo and give up on the idea of change.

Georgian Dream won the last election. It has voters, even if this law is unpopular. What is your pitch to them?
The vast majority of Georgians see that the only prosperous future lies in the EU. Just this week, Germany’s ambassador to Georgia said that since this law has been adopted, it will not vote in favour of opening accession negotiations. Before, all the stars were finally aligned for Georgia to engage in those negotiations.

Do you think that Georgia will continue towards Europe or be reabsorbed into the Russian sphere?
Losing ties with Europe is exactly what’s at stake. That’s why we have seen such opposition to this law, where tens and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people – amounting to almost 10 per cent of Georgia’s population – have been flooding the streets. People know that this is a deliberate attempt by the government to sabotage Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

Tune in to ‘The Foreign Desk’ at 12.00 London time for our full interview with Tinatin Bokuchava.

The Monocle Concierge / San Francisco

Go fish

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, Alamy
Image: Getty Images, Alamy
Image: Getty Images, Alamy

Dear Concierge,

We are planning to spend a week in San Francisco at the end of July. What are the best hotels, restaurants and things to see?

Thank you,

Stephane Grunenwald

Dear Stephane,

Summer in San Francisco will guarantee a wonderful atmosphere but expect cool temperatures and fog. To escape the wild West Coast wind, stay at The Palace Hotel in SoMa, which has old-school charm and a beautiful pool to unwind in. The St Regis can also offer you similar pampering in the same neighbourhood – all with the bonus of a bathroom television.

The recently restored Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero is a must-visit, not simply for its architecture but also its culinary delights, including local oysters at Hog Island. A short stroll north will take you to La Mar for the finest pisco sours in the city. Coincide your trip to the Embarcadero with an excursion to Alcatraz; both day and night tours are worth it. Don’t be fooled by the heat of midsummer, they built a prison there for a reason. Soak up the sun at Dolores Park for some world-class people-watching on your way to Heath Ceramics, a one-stop shop for gifts, lunch and maybe even a boozy end to the day.

Seafood is imperative when in the city. If exploring the expansive Golden Gate Park, pop into Hook Fish Co for dinner. Petit Crenn near the Painted Ladies photo spot also offers an array of local catches with French twists. Bon voyage!

Image: Tony Hay

Wardrobe update / SANTONI SLIDES

No mean feet

Italian footwear and accessories label Santoni is best known for its smart leather loafers, which are crafted in the company’s manufacturing facility in Italy’s Marche region. The shoes stand out for their round-toe silhouettes, buckle embellishments and nature-inspired colour palettes, and have been enjoying a resurgence as fashion returns to formality. “The younger generation seems drawn to them,” says executive president Giuseppe Santoni.

“Trainers are part of everyday life but we can offer more formal shoes that are equally as comfortable by blending craft with innovation.” Santoni has also been working on expanding its men’s offering, as well as bolstering its women’s and leather-goods ranges. These unisex leather slides, featuring double-buckle straps, make for an elegant off-duty staple.

For more sunny looks and inspiration, pick up a copy of Monocle’s latest issue or subscribe today. Have a great Saturday.


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