Thursday. 14/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Caught in the undertow

In 2014, Italian art historian Salvatore Settis published a book called Se Venezia Muore (If Venice Dies). It’s an eye-opening read about cities and the causes of their demise. Settis wrote that cities die for one of three reasons: after being destroyed by enemies, forcefully occupied (and demoted) by an invading power or forgetting their past. Venice’s evolution in the past few years – overflowing with tourists, rocked by the passage of huge cruise ships, drowning in increasingly frequent floods – appears to be placing it in the final category.

This week’s floods – the worst since 1966 – have killed two and damaged shops, homes and churches. There are many reasons behind the rising occurrence of acqua alta (the Venetians’ term for tidal floods). Climate change, as the city’s mayor rightly decried, is certainly one of them; the exploitation of port areas and damage to the canals’ seabed are also factors. But Venice’s inability to protect itself against the oncoming water is also a clear sign of a city with a short memory: a conversation about building a tidal barrier to protect the city began decades ago. That project, called Mose, is still far from completion, marred by overspending and corruption scandals.

Settis believes that Venice is the most obvious example of the way in which many of our cities are falling foul of greed-fuelled false progress. “If Venice dies it won’t be just Venice dying,” he says. “The very idea of a city will die.” That’s why all cities, not just Venice, need to learn the lagoon’s lesson: only by preserving its history – and respecting its heritage – will it be rescued now.

Politics / Bolivia

Filling the power vacuum

Bolivia’s constitutional court has approved Jeanine Áñez, a right-leaning senator in the country’s upper house, as its interim leader following the resignation (and subsequent exile to Mexico) of president Evo Morales. Protests in Bolivia have continued against Morales and his former government but Mexico, which granted him asylum, has rolled out the red carpet. The latter has a long history of offering sanctuary to leftist leaders fleeing unrest at home. Why? Well, demonstrating solidarity with beleaguered political leaders on the left can play well among voters there, a calculation that has been particularly potent for Mexico’s current government, which came to power last year on a leftist platform. If, however, Morales continues to use his exile in Mexico to rail against the events that unseated him at home, it could well prove to be as destabilising for his hosts as for Bolivia’s new interim government.

Society / Japan

Party politics

Every spring for nearly seven decades, the Japanese government has hosted an invitation-only cherry-blossom-viewing party in Tokyo for film stars, athletes, artists and musicians. But yesterday prime minister Shinzo Abe decided to cancel next year’s event. He is under fire for allegedly doling out invitations – as part of a package tour – to constituents in his home base of southwest Japan last year. Opposition lawmakers are asking how the government came up with its guestlist and why Abe’s supporters arrived by the busload to an event paid for by taxpayers; this year’s party cost ¥55m (€460,000). By cancelling the event, Abe is hoping he can silence his critics. Alas, it’s unlikely that the emboldened opposition will let him off the hook quite so easily.

Defence / Germany

Front and centre

If you grabbed a copy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper yesterday morning you might have been a little stunned by the front-page image: 400 new military recruits citing their oath outside of the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, having been invited by the German defence minister. It marked the first such public oath in six years, coming on the postwar anniversary of the founding of the Bundeswehr – which is also known as the “parliament’s army” – in 1955. Such public displays might be commonplace elsewhere but remain rare (for obvious historical reasons) in Germany, which made the Frankfurter Allgemeine’s front page all the more notable. It came complete with an opinion piece by co-publisher Berthold Kohler, where he said that soldiers have the right “not to be viewed as mercenaries that the public wants as little to do with as possible”. Given Germany’s postwar pacifism that’s quite a significant shift.

Hospitality / Global

The journey is the destination

Singapore-based Aman hotel group has just opened its 34th international destination: a Ryokan-inspired property in Kyoto. But that’s not all: Aman is taking its hospitality know-how to the skies in the form of its own private jet. The customised Bombardier Global 5000 seats up to 12 passengers and is available for charter on both short and long-haul trips. It follows similar skyward moves from other luxury-accommodation brands, including The Four Seasons, but it’s not only air travel that hotels are exploring in today’s saturated market. The Ritz-Carlton will be launching yacht cruises next year and even Cape Town’s Ellerman House has teamed up with German car manufacturer BMW and artist Nic Bladen to create a bespoke hybrid BMW 7 Series that will pick up guests from the airport. More than ever, transport is becoming part of the overnight package.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Fully

David Kahl is the CEO and founder of Fully, a Portland-based office-furniture brand designing desks and chairs which, it says, encourage a more active and energetic workspace. Kahl started his professional life as an accountant. The job took him to Manhattan, where he lived through the horrors of September 11th, an experience that inspired him to focus on building positive work environments. He launched Fully in 2006, which is now a Certified B company working with top manufacturers in Europe.

Monocle Films / Wales

Made in Wales

From a lavender farm in the countryside to a denim mill revitalising a harbour town, Wales is using its traditions and craft to benefit new industries. Monocle films profiles two inspiring Welsh enterprises that are bringing international success home.

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