The Opener - Issue 169 - Magazine | Monocle
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from the road: soft power

Making a mark

Tyler Brûlé on why countries should play to their strengths.

There’s a good chance that, by the time you read this, you have had your Christmas dinner, recovered from your New Year’s Eve celebrations and are on your way to Davos for the World Economic Forum meeting. Are you excited? Looking forward to seeing some familiar faces? Anxious to catch a few political punch-ups on the pistes?

There’ll be no shortage of big discussion topics in Davos – but what will countries do to shine if they aren’t in the middle of the geopolitical action? How does a Mexico or an Ireland make its mark? And what do you do if you’re Thailand? After a recent visit to the foreign ministry in Bangkok and a discussion about soft power, I thought, “What does a new prime minister and team of policymakers do with a nation that occupies the diplomatic middle ground?”

I pondered this en route to dinner that evening. After a tasty meal hosted by one of the country’s new generation of top hoteliers, it struck me. You play to your strengths and dazzle the world with outstanding hospitality, a cuisine loved by all and a dash of good retail. In our October issue, three Thai companies were winners of monocle’s Retail Awards. It’s this story of ingenuity matched with design and service that the country should be selling. Thailand’s Central Group already runs some of Europe’s premier department stores but now is the time for more brands to step forward. The country’s flag carrier could do with a refresh – and how about employing the nation’s best architects to create a new generation of embassies for a punchier presence in Singapore, Tokyo and Washington?


the interrogator

Afie Jurvanen
Canada
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Finnish-Canadian musician Afie Jurvanen, who also goes by the name Bahamas, is known for writing and performing country-tinged indie folk. His sixth album, Bootcut, leans even more heavily on Americana influences. Recorded in Nashville at Sound Emporium studio, the record’s rich and varied songs combine breezy instrumentals with wry lyrics and a hint of cynicism. Jurvanen tells us about Air Canada’s film selection, where he gets his books and why he loves country singer Merle Haggard. 

What is your favourite bookshop? 
I’m always drawn to bookshops when I travel. But I’m actively trying to own less these days so the Halifax Public Library is my new friend.

What have you been listening to lately? 
The country singer Merle Haggard’s It’s All in the Game. The album cover is a total stunner and the songs are so clean and well recorded. Probably not his most popular album but I really like it. 

Do you prefer coffee or tea in the morning? 
I’m addicted to coffee. Not proud of it but it’s the truth. I often have it on my nightstand.

What’s your movie genre of choice?
Whatever is available on Air Canada. I don’t have Netflix or any streaming platforms. Sometimes we get DVDs from the library but that’s usually whatever the kids choose. When I get on a flight I just indulge in John Wick or whatever they have. 

Why make a country-sounding record?
I’ve always had songs like that on all my albums. There’s always one or two that lean in that direction. Over the pandemic, I was able to do some recording with these wonderful musicians. We did some remote recording – they were in Nashville and I was in Nova Scotia. And that just went so well. So then suddenly the wheels were turning and I thought, well, that was so fun, wouldn’t it just be amazing if I got down there to work with them in person? And that instinct was the right one.

For more on Bahamas, listen to our interview with the musician on ‘Monocle on Culture’, which aired on 9 October. 


Reporting from...


Monocle’s bureaux chiefs and reporters bring you the latest news and developments from far-flung locales. This month: raising a glass in Thailand and a cinematic night out in Los Angeles.

bangkok
Booze rules

Bars will be staying open longer in Thai tourist destinations as part of the government’s plan to stimulate the economy. The move reverses the direction of the last administration, which tightened restrictions on the sale of alcohol, especially around Buddhist holidays.

los angeles
Silver screen

Cinemas continue to open up all over Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino’s Vista Theatre relaunched in November after years of renovations; the Egyptian Theater has had a Netflix-sponsored spruce-up and Amazon’s The Culver Theater is packing in first-run showings.

london
Making room

London’s Canary Wharf, the city’s rather dull financial centre, could soon become a more colourful district. Canary Wharf Group will invest £400m (€459.2m) to counter the drop in demand for office space by encouraging businesses, shops and restaurants to move in.


Beat a retreat


When Norwegian author Jon Fosse was told that he had won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, he was doing the second-most stereotypical thing that a writer could do – labouring in a lonely cabin. (The most stereotypical thing that a writer could do is fume at the success of one’s peers, an agreeable pastime presumably forestalled for ever by becoming a Nobel laureate.) There is a rich tradition of writers hunkering in cabins, cottages, huts and sheds. But it is arguable that many of those attracted to the literary life are at least partially seeking an excuse to sit in the garden and ignore everybody. Here are three more literary greats who had a cabin of their own. 

1

R
oald Dahl
The prolific author described his garden shed as “my nest, my womb”. Dahl was inspired to retreat into his backyard by a visit to another such hermitage: Dylan Thomas’s boathouse overlooking the Taf estuary.

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2
Virginia Woolf
Woolf famously wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. The room of Woolf’s own was a wooden shed in her garden in East Sussex. It evolved over the years from a tumbledown hovel with an attic full of apples to a self-contained lodge.

3
George Orwell
It’s a bit of a stretch to describe Barnhill, where Orwell wrote 1984, as a cabin: it’s a decent-sized house. But this homestead on the Isle of Jura in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides fulfils every writer’s fantasy of solitude. Even today, reaching it involves two ferries, a 30km drive and a 6km walk. Make very sure you haven’t forgotten your laptop charger. 


Back in flock 

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UK turkey farmers have finally had a streak of good luck. Last winter saw the poultry industry engulfed by a bird-flu crisis, leaving a shortage of free-range turkeys. Some farmers had to cull more than a third of their flock. However, recent signs of immunity in the feathery animals have brought on a period of prosperity.
 
The sum of £6.5m (€7.47m) has been allocated to studying viral transmission and research is being carried out by experts in collaboration with the UK government’s Animal Plant Health Agency. With the country’s scientists on the case, the UK’s shoppers can feel confident that they will have ample turkey stock on their festive tables.


Singing about net gains


It is one of the more niche concerns to be addressed by a protest song: fish farming in Iceland. Nevertheless, this is the cause for which microphones have been lofted by Iceland’s most famous musical export, Björk, and one of Spain’s biggest pop stars, Rosalía.

Repeatedly positing “Is that the right thing to do?” (presumably as a rhetorical question), this entrancingly weird gospel-influenced track was released to accompany protests across Iceland against fish farming – an industry that is dominated by Norwegian-owned companies.

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In August, thousands of farmed salmon escaped from a facility in Patreksfjörður, with potentially calamitous outcomes for the wild salmon that swim in Iceland’s pristine rivers. As a consequence of this and previous mishaps, the Icelandic government is proposing tighter control of the industry.

This is a huge deal for the Nordic country. Anything to do with fish always is (marine produce accounts for 43 per cent of exports). The least that those taking to the streets deserve is an anthem. 


The Truman show

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A previously unpublished short story by Truman Capote has been discovered in one of the author’s notebooks, which are held by the Library of Congress in Washington.
 
It was found by Andrew F Gulli, literary sleuth and editor of The Strand Magazine. The story, Another Day In Paradise, was printed in a recent issue of The Strand, which described it thus: “It has, like so much of Capote’s other works, some autobiographical elements, as well as Capote’s signature style – evocative descriptions, wry humour, and all too human characters.”

But between the title and the protagonist, who lives unhappily in a gilded villa in 1950s Sicily and yearns for copies of Time, it is rather tempting to conclude that Capote shelved the story on the grounds of inadvertent self-parody. 

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