The Opener - Issue 170 - Magazine | Monocle
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the list: tips for 2024
Word to the wise

Tyler Brûlé on six things that should be on your radar this year.

Just in case this jam-packed issue doesn’t sate your appetite for inspiration, here are a few more things to see, do or buy. 

1.  If you’re planning to stop off in Lisbon this spring or summer, I recommend an upper-floor suite at the Hotel das Amoreiras. Owner Pedro Oliveira has done a fine job, not only with the lighting but also with the comfy banquettes, which have the perfect backrest angle.
2.  There’s a good chance that we’ll see you during Salone del Mobile in April. If you’re hesitating because of the hotel prices, why not stay in Lugano and take the train into Milano Centrale? Hotel Gabbani is near the station and affordable. Sign up to our newsletters to keep on top of our events during the fair.
3.  Air France is expected to unveil its new First Class concept soonish. Early sketches suggest that it wants to outdo Lufthansa and Swiss with an evolution of its much-loved four-seat cabin.
4.  Wardrobe looking a bit thin? Try Heschung for footwear, Ripa Ripa for lido essentials, Yindigo AM for boxy cashmere cuts, Tembea for canvas holdalls and Howlin’ for hits of colour.
5.  If you want a runabout, the Suzuki Ignis is quickly becoming the vastly improved answer to the Fiat Panda.
6.  French TV’s morning-news wars have resumed. tf1 has launched a crowded, overlit programme to take on France 2’s Télématin and bfmtv’s flagship morning show. If you’re not familiar with France’s take on morning TV, it’s worth a peek. Good Morning America it most certainly isn’t.


Chequered flag

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One look at Kyrgyzstan’s rankings in the UN’s Human Development Index or Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index will lead the reader to conclude that the country has bigger issues than the curvature of the rays of the sun depicted on its flag.

Some Kyrgyz lawmakers believe otherwise. They’ve become concerned that the sun, which has adorned their national banner since 1992, looks more like a sunflower. In the Kyrgyz vernacular, “sunflower” is also an insult, which seems like something someone should have noticed at the time.

Kyrgyzstan’s president, Sadyr Japarov, has declared that the wobbly rays are “one of the reasons why this country cannot get off its knees”. It could be argued that Japarov’s own corruption, oppression, nepotism and populist tub-thumping might be more culpable – and that picking a row over the flag is some sort of diversion.

The plan, then, is to straighten the rays, though this might not solve the problem. A subsidiary argument rages about the yurt shown cradled within the sun, which some believe is depicted with insufficient slats in its roof. 


Let sleeping seals lie

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Australians grow accustomed to bizarre interactions with unusual wildlife, cohabiting as they do with a menagerie of fauna that’s belligerent and eccentric. Australia is possibly the only country on Earth where a boss will be inclined to believe the employee who claims to be delayed by an enormous seal blocking their driveway.

Exactly this obstacle was recently faced by a citizen of the state of Tasmania, whose vehicle was hemmed in by a 600kg southern elephant seal that had chosen her front yard for a snooze. The seal, christened Neil by poetic locals, has previously accrued his fair share of online fame by sunning himself on beachfront roads.

Another thing that Australians grow accustomed to, if they wish to survive to an appreciable age, is leaving the native creatures alone. Neil’s host would have been doing entirely the right thing if she had taken his arrival as the cue for a day off – or possibly a sign from the universe to go back to bed herself and call it a duvet day.


Reporting from...


Monocle has a network of correspondents in cities around the world. Our brief updates here include news on London’s rising skyline, a pioneering opening in LA and a Japanese airline’s new pet project.


london
Tower surge 

The City of London’s skyline is continuing to sprout glassy new towers. The financial district expects 11 of them to be built by 2030 with interest in office space from technology firms as well as banks. For all the talk of hybrid working, the City is still bucking trends. 


los angeles
Open for viewings 

A mile-long open-air art museum is due to open this month, with Sankofa Park, designed by Perkins & Will, as its centrepiece. A welcome investment in South Central LA, the project, Destination Crenshaw, is billed as the world’s largest collection of public art by black US artists. 


tokyo
Air of the dog 

Some good news for the Tokyo bureau’s canine contingent: Japanese airline Star Flyer now allows small dogs (and cats) on all domestic flights. Pet tickets cost ¥50,000 (€316) and owners are allowed to sit next to their pooches in the back row.


Slippery slope

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If there is one thing everyone knows about Switzerland, it is that everything in the country is superbly maintained and fastidiously clean to the extent that any second-class train carriage could be instantly repurposed as an operating theatre. Startling, then, to learn that some Swiss ski lifts have descended into dishevelment.

Dwindling snow has forced the abandonment of at least 65 such installations. Some have been vandalised, appropriated by squatters or turned into party venues. It seems an affront to Swiss stereotype. Here are three other portents of national decline which the cantons concerned would do well to watch.

1


German cars
It would grievously damage Germany’s image if the production lines of Mercedes-Benz, bmw and Audi began rolling out unsightly backfiring jalopies.

2


Italian food
Widespread rethinking of brand Italy would ensue should travellers start noticing that every meal suddenly wasn’t the best thing they had ever eaten.

3


French abruptness
Visitors who descend on France for the Paris Olympics this summer will all leave disappointed if at least one waiter doesn’t roll their eyes at their pronunciation of “bourguignon”.


Know your stuff


Norwegian technology start-up Add + Space aims to be the new Airbnb – but for stuff. Users log their excess items on an app and the firm will send someone to scoot them all away. The service’s quirky orange bicycles can already be seen in New York.

In addition to traditional storage units being used to house these items, private individuals can let any extra square footage as somewhere to store your paraphernalia. You can then keep track of your things through a “virtual closet” on the app. And at the press of a few buttons, your items will rematerialise on your doorstep.

It sounds like a winning formula: Airbnb-style renting combined with seamless delivery reminiscent of a takeaway service and an AI-powered gimmick. However, though turning your closet into everyone else’s might be a brilliant business plan, ultimately this makes cities more hospitable for commodities than for people. While being ostensibly new, this innovation feels like more of the same.


Strained relations

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Italy has a reputation for being family-oriented, with many generations happily living together under one roof. But a 75-year-old mother from Pavia recently went before a judge to kick her children out of the nest. The woman took her sons, aged 42 and 40, to court to force them to move out, after they declined to leave. The judge ruled in her favour, issuing an eviction order.

The bamboccione (big baby) who refuses to become independent is a part of Italy’s perception of young people. In reality, a tough economy and an unsteady job market are keeping young Italians in their family home longer than they would like. A 2022 Eurostat study found that Italians move out on average at age 30, compared with 23 in France and 21 in Sweden.


correspondent’s view: Washington
Wheel of fortune

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On a street outside the campus of the US National Institutes of Health, a centre of scientific and medical excellence on the outskirts of Washington, an advertising sign swaying in the wind offers tarot readings. Not far away, a thrift shop that has gone out of business has been replaced by a hastily put-together shop promising psychic consultations.

By my count, it’s the fourth such offering in a few blocks in my Washington neighbourhood. The renewed fascination for paranormal assistance is part of a wider trend that has been sweeping across the US of late. According to data from research group Ibis World, the psychic-services industry in the country was on course to reach record revenues of more than $2.3bn (€2.1bn) in 2023 – a significant increase from $1.9bn (€1.75bn) just a decade ago. Ibis World speculates that this is related to a shift away from organised religion towards New Age spirituality in some sections of US society (more than 25 per cent of adults in the country now claim to see themselves as spiritual, rather than religious in the traditional sense), as well as aggressive online marketing on social media.

Fears for the future also evidently loom large, particularly among younger generations. A recent study found that one in four millennials in the US turn to fortune tellers for financial advice, while economic and political uncertainty are pushing people towards unorthodox sources of solace. According to polling by Yougov, more than 20 per cent of Americans have consulted a medium, psychic or fortune-teller at some point in their lives.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that so many are seeking guidance wherever they can. With political chaos, deep polarisation ahead of this year’s presidential elections and the potential return of Donald Trump, everybody wants to know what’s around the corner.

“It’s not at all clear what will happen,” says Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. “When there’s uncertainty and anxiety, and society is a little unstable, belief in conspiracy theories and the paranormal goes up.” Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before US politics-watchers swap their pollsters for palm readers. 

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