We get sociable with co-working spaces and consider two very different approaches to national pride. First up, a quick fix in Milan, Washington’s explosive exhibition and Portland puts opera on the menu.
Milan’s bar with benefits
Doormen, or portinai, were once a fixture of Italian apartment blocks but their numbers have declined since the 1970s. Now an appetite for online shopping is fuelling their revival, be it to sign for a parcel or help carry groceries upstairs.
For Milanese households without a portinaio there’s now a bar in the Navigli neighbourhood that offers the same services. Operating as a meeting point for the area, Portineria14 offers useful services – such as looking after a set of keys or recommending a handyman – without making any charge.
Portland’s opera van
The food carts that have turned Portland dusty lots into food halls have offered an enticing model for the opera in Oregon’s largest city. A Grumman Olson van, transformed into a stage, has been pitching up at festivals and farmers’ markets with a chalkboard menu offering a selection of arias. “We wanted to break down barriers that define opera as elitist,” says Clare Burovac, the company’s artistic operations director.
In the 1990s, Canada’s Saturday morning children’s television was a boisterous affair. Yet amid cheerful presenters and cartoons there was always a moment of elevated pause. Heritage Minutes, first broadcast in 1991 and produced by the Historica Canada charitable foundation, was a history lesson in miniature – 60 seconds from start to finish – profiling a prominent person, a significant place or a notable episode from Canadian history.
It was a pervasive presence, made to promote lesser-known chapters of Canada’s past and shown during TV commercial breaks, on the big screen between movie trailers and in classrooms. Production ended at the turn of the century but the slot was revived in 2012. Each film is a quietly potent pillar in shaping Canada’s sense of self, which is important in a country where national identity is an elusive notion. “Canadians have a reputation for not being loud or celebratory about their history,” says Davida Aronovitch, Heritage Minutes’ manager. “But Minutes has a broad viewer base and we have our super fans. We’re bringing lesser-known stories to the national consciousness.”
Heritage Minutes and its audience are, however, changing. In June it told the story of gay-rights activist Jim Egan, which was the first time the strand had covered Canada’s lgbt history. It was watched online more than 2.5 million times within the first month of its release, one of the highest audiences for a Heritage Minute since the format debuted nearly 30 years ago. “Americans are seen as more patriotic but we have just as many incredible stories and just as many heroes and heroines,” says Aronovitch. “Those are the stories we’re trying to tell.”
The way we work has changed but not in the way many imagined. A few years ago, promises were made about our laptops freeing us from the nine-to-five. An office? Pah, we’ll answer emails between cocktails from our deckchairs, thanks very much. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out that way. We still work from offices – but the way we use them is undergoing an almighty shift.
WeWork is one of many companies that offer co-working spaces. Last year it counted 175,000 members and its shift from fuddy-duddy spaces to trendier digs has also affected office design. Gone is uniformity or vast walnut desks to show who’s boss; here instead is colour and carefully choreographed “personality”. Say goodbye to your Vitra Aluminium Series chair and hello to slouchy armchairs and Panton seating. How about a bean bag? Or a plastic sphere suspended on a rope from the ceiling? Perfect, you’ll fit right in.
But beware: some of these “fun” spaces look remarkably like sad catalogue shots. “The co-working set-up fits the individualistic, slightly self-focused frame of mind, which embraces an ‘anti-bought’ and ‘anti-branded’ cliché,” says Ove Rogne, founder of Oslo-based furniture-design firm Northern. “This sector is giving us plenty of work creating strange, crazy and creative spaces.” We may still be some way from working from deckchairs but it seems we may get that cocktail after all.
The Sicilian town of San Vito lo Capo is famous for its couscous; the local recipe dictates that it should be garnished with seafood and a thick fish sauce. When recommending somewhere to try it, many will mention Alfredo, one of the best restaurants in the area.
Its website features glossy shots of prawns and tuna steaks but fails to show the other reason why Alfredo is known around San Vito. First opened in the 1990s, this restaurant’s decor features references to its owner’s political leanings: busts and photographs of Benito Mussolini adorn the walls alongside fascist memorabilia. Il Duce’s image is also printed on its business cards (alongside a picture of San Vito’s beautiful beach).
Last year the Italian senate approved an update to a 1952 law against sanctioning fascism. The new version renders the production, distribution or sale of objects representing fascist figures (or the Fascist party’s symbols) illegal. The change was particularly unwelcome at the souvenir shops near Il Duce’s tomb in the town of Predappio, where you can buy such treats as Mussolini-branded truncheons. Yet restaurants, bars and cafés such as Alfredo’s are easily found across the country.
What Italy should do with the architectural and artistic legacy of its fascist past is a discussion that is unresolved. Gleaming rationalist buildings can be found in most Italian cities and make for architecturally remarkable attractions. But accusations by some politicians (members of the populist 5-star Movement included) that the law infringes freedom of speech are misleading. In Spain, controversy around Franco’s mausoleum is forcing a discussion on the line between memory and commemoration. When it comes to Italian fascism, this ambiguity is too often shunned.