Reporting from...Monocle’s global bureaux keep their ears to the ground in a bevvy of far-flung locales – and they’re there to keep you abreast of the latest developments. This month: crossing the road and retail.
Thailand’s new national parliament building, a huge temple-like complex crowned by a golden pagoda, is due to be completed after a decade. The country’s 90-year-long experiment with democracy remains a work in progress.
LA is no paradise for pedestrians, so the secretive Crosswalk Collective paint guerrilla crossings at dangerous intersections – some of which have become permanent. Sometimes, it pays off to take a walk on the wild side.
Small businesses have been offered a rent-free opportunity to set up on London’s Oxford Street. Participants will also be offered mentoring, shop design and marketing from independent retail consultants Someday Studios.
Tyler Brûlé on taking pride in smart infrastructure projects.
About 50 per cent of the words that I file for monocle are tapped out on a high-speed train, frequently between Zürich and Paris, and recently on a gleaming train set between Madrid and Seville, operated by newish rail start-up Iryo. While the French set the European standard with their tgv technology, the Italians and Spanish have not only caught up but also surpassed them in terms of comfort and the scale of networks. Riding Spain’s high-speed rails creates a certain sense of wonder as suburbs fade and blend into olive groves and, every 45 minutes or so, you glide into polished, modern train stations that have been created for the purpose of efficient intercity travel. When I pulled into Seville’s Santa Justa station on a Sunday morning I looked at my fellow (mostly Spanish) passengers and pondered whether they were proud of this marvel of modern infrastructure or if it was simply part of their daily routine.
On the day that we sent this issue off to press, reports emerged suggesting that the UK’s somewhat ambitious high-speed-rail initiative would be scaled back into little more than another commuter service between London and Birmingham. I asked myself: when did so many leaders lose their ambition to create not just jobs and connectivity but a sense of national pride? The Conservative government has let go of a chance to reconnect a nation in need of gluing together but it’s not alone. Canada could do with a grand project for the nation to rally behind and so too could Australia. Investing in everyday wonders inspires domestic pride and the envy of neighbours. In Spain, this is not just well understood – it has also been mastered.
Agustina Macri, the Argentinian director and screenwriter, is known for her socially conscious filmmaking, which often tells stories about unsung heroines. Her first full-length film, Soledad, about an Argentinian woman who moves to Italy, picked up the best feature award at the third Barcelona International Film Festival in 2019. This year, Macri is working on two new film scripts and the next season of the television series Limbo, her first for Disney Star+. Here, Macri – who splits her time between Madrid and Buenos Aires – tells us about Argentinian tea, her favourite bookshops and a pop song that she can’t stop humming.
Coffee or tea in the morning?
Neither: the Argentinian yerba mate tea is my favourite wake-up drink by far; it’s my companion when I work for long periods of time.
Do you have a cultural obsession?
I love bookshops such as Libros del Pasaje in Palermo and Falena in Colegiales, Buenos Aires.
What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I love Billie Eilish. So young and powerful, exposing her fears and her dreams. “I’m in Love With My Future” is an amazing mantra.
What do you have coming up?
I have just finished filming season two of Limbo, and am now in the writing room for the next series, which will shoot in Mexico. I’m also pushing ahead with a couple of scripts. One is the true story of a transgender woman who became a coal miner in remote Patagonia, while another is about a Dominican woman who arrived in Spain, started out as a dishwasher and ended up earning two Michelin stars.
Hey, big spender!
The Royal Australian Mint is releasing a run of au$1 coins commemorating the peculiar Australian cult of Big Things – vast and improbable roadside structures that celebrate local produce or fauna, from the Big Apple in Spreyton, Tasmania, to the Big Boxing Crocodile at Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory.
Ten Big Things have been honoured by the Mint, a mix of well-known monuments (such as the Big Banana that has stood at Coffs Harbour since 1964) and some more recent or esoteric choices, such as the Big Blue Heeler at Muswellbrook, a shrine to the Australian Cattle Dog, which was erected in 2001.
Big Things aficionados will be especially delighted by the inclusion of the Big Koala that adorns the Victorian town of Dadswells Bridge: an immense bronze monstrosity also home to a souvenir shop, at which fridge magnets of the popular destination may now be purchased with coins bearing its image.
While tourists have long wreaked havoc on the Italian coastline, a different kind of visitor is now causing trouble. International trade boats first brought the Atlantic blue crab to Italy decades ago but this year the creature’s population has increased to a critical point, disturbing the sea’s flora and fauna, and putting the livelihood of several fishing communities at risk.
The government has set aside €2.9m to help fishing co-operatives to control the crabs’ population. But their main strategy is to push for integrating blue crabs in the country’s menus. Sold at a much cheaper price than other crab species (about €8 a kilo), the Atlantic crab is slowly making its way into local osterias, mostly in the form of a spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes.
Prime minister Giorgia Meloni has supported this strategy, posting selfies from her summer home holding a plate of blue crab. While the strategy’s long-term effects remain to be seen, the Italians should get creativity points for their “if you can’t beat it, eat it” approach to problem-solving.
Anguilla’s economy usually relies on tourism and fishing but the island is now set to make tens of millions of dollars thanks to a fluke. Companies with links to artificial intelligence, such as Google and Microsoft, are rushing to secure domain names ending in “.ai” – and Anguilla, whose websites usually include the suffix, has won the jackpot. Island authorities say that they expect to gain up to $30m (€28.3m) in registration fees this year – about 10 per cent of the state’s GDP.
King of the (concrete) jungle
In the busy megalopolises of Asia, it takes a fair bit to attract attention. However, a lion strolling along Shahrah-e-Faisal, one of Karachi’s busiest roads, did prove sufficient to stop traffic.
The Asiatic lion has been extinct in the territory of modern-day Pakistan since the 1800s (a small population roams Gir National Park in India). Any romantic notions that this big cat might have been a member of some hitherto unnoticed local pride were forlorn: the creature, privately and illegally owned, had disembarked from a car while being transported.
There was a happy-ish ending: the lion was rehoused at Karachi’s zoo and five people also found themselves behind bars, pending charges. A more satisfactory resolution than for a similar story from Berlin, where after a 30-hour hunt for a reported loose lion, during which police scrambled helicopters, drones and armoured vehicles and warned residents to stay indoors, it was concluded that the creature causing all the cowering was a wild pig.
Gaming has substantially migrated online but the old-school board game retains a quaint, genteel cachet (readers with an aggressive Monopoly player in the family may beg to differ). The website of the New York Review of Books, for one, stocks Scrabble, Agatha Christie Bingo and Mythology Trivia but is unlikely to ever offer Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. Here are further suggestions for turning your next soirée into a convivial evening’s competition and/or a chair-throwing brawl over a loophole in the rules.
MTV: The Throwback Music Party Game
A test of one’s knowledge of 1980s and 1990s pop – and of one’s willingness to endure humiliation in pursuit of victory, given the occasional necessity to demonstrate knowledge of the works of Flock Of Seagulls.
Show Me the Monet
While it has to be suspected that they thought of the name first, the game second, cracking out this art-collecting card game after dinner will, depending on your guests, either impress or prompt everybody to scramble for taxis.
A game depicting Milan Design Week. Move your character around a board designed to reflect the chaos of the event itself. An expansion kit includes such avatars as designer, industry scion and newbie.