Friday. 13/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Fields of vision

My experience of the UK countryside usually results from an invitation landing on my desk to the opening of a nicely designed rural hotel that’s a manageable distance from London – the dress code rarely requires wellies. So it was a surprise when Countryside, A Report, a beautiful book that’s compact enough to fit in the pocket of a Barbour jacket, arrived this week. This dense piece of work by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas analyses what’s really happening in the lands beyond our cities.

Through text, infographics and dazzling imagery, Countryside, A Report looks at everything from how Siberians are managing the rapid thawing of their province due to climate change to how the Dutch are combining ancient farming techniques and complex data research to revolutionise growing methods. Because these innovations are all happening in the countryside, it means that, as Koolhaas puts it, “we never hear about them”.

The Dutchman is out to change this. The stories that he delves into in print come to life in more physical form at Countryside, the Future, his extensive exhibition that’s now open at New York’s Guggenheim. Those who can’t get to the Big Apple, however, can still read Koolhaas’s manifesto, due out on 31 March, preferably while on a train to rural pastures where some seriously under-appreciated work is taking place.

Politics / Russia

In it for the long term

Russia’s Duma approved draft legislation this week that could allow Vladimir Putin to remain in power for a further 12 years following the end of his current stint in 2024. The proposal retains a two-term limit but – here’s the crafty bit – resets the clock on Putin’s 20-year leadership. It will be subject to the scrutiny of a constitutional court (which it is likely to pass) and a plebiscite on 22 April, where it has been cynically bundled with populist legislation including a guaranteed minimum wage. “There won’t be much chance for protests, in part because that would mean protesting against other popular legislation and in part due to public-health concerns surrounding coronavirus,” Rusi senior associate fellow and author Mark Galeotti told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “They can shut any large gatherings down with full legitimacy.” All the more reason for the international media to look beyond today’s virus-heavy headlines and stay informed.

Transport / Japan

Clean record

It might seem counterintuitive for any transport system to be expanding its timetable at the moment but the Central Japan Railway Company (aka JR Central) has long planned to increase the number of Shinkansen (bullet trains) heading west from Tokyo, from 10 to 12 an hour. The reason is that from tomorrow all Shinkansen on the route will be the N700A model, which is capable of running at 285kph. At that speed, seven minutes will be shaved off the journey time between Tokyo and Osaka to make it less than two and a half hours. As anyone who has used the system knows, Japan’s high-speed trains leave on time and in a state of perfect cleanliness. So in preparation for the shortened gap between departures, cleaning crews have knocked two minutes off their usual routine; they can now sweep through the 16-car trains in 10 minutes or less. While JR Central is keeping an eye on the coronavirus situation, a spokesperson for the company says, “We’re going ahead with the plan.”

Culture / New York

Open ticket

Bill de Blasio might not have cut it as a US presidential candidate but, with his mayoral eye firmly back on New York City, he made a bold move this week by appointing Gonzalo Casals (pictured) as the city’s new cultural affairs commissioner. Casals, originally from Argentina, has taken on what has been a controversy-ridden post in recent years: previous incumbent, Tom Finkelpearl, left after a disagreement over how to rethink the city’s public monuments. As director of Soho’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, Casals has been a pioneer of LGBTQ rights. And a focus on more representation for gay and minority communities is clearly intended to be a hallmark of his tenure, which starts on 13 April. Now that Casals is holding the purse strings for the city’s (mostly nonprofit) cultural institutions, he might have the influence to make New York’s cultural scene more accessible and diverse.

Travel / Paris

What’s not to Louvre?

Our editors have spent a lot of time in Paris over the years and this weekend will be our readers’ first chance to harvest the fruit of a new collaboration focused on the French capital. We’ve teamed up with French newspaper Les Echos to create a Franco-English guide that highlights our favourite 75 experiences, places to see and things to do in the City of Lights. From the best booths to bag at our favourite restaurants to top tennis courts, shops, architectural curiosities, a boat trip and even a peerless pet shop, the Paris 75 supplement slips beyond the touristy tat and introduces both first-timers and longtime residents to a few under-the-radar finds to get to the city’s best bits. Monocle subscribers will find the guide in our forthcoming April issue of the magazine but if you can’t wait, then seek out the current issue of Les Echos Week-End [https://weekend.lesechos.fr/] for a first look.

M24 / Meet The Writers

Monocle Reads: Jen Calleja

We speak to award-winning poet and German-language translator Jen Calleja. Her debut short-fiction collection, I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For, is a vibrant mixture of comic, somewhat surreal stories, which poke and prod at the fabric of everyday life.

Monocle Films / Madrid

The secret to ordering tapas

We jaunt around Madrid’s tabernas, the lively living rooms of the Spanish capital, and share some tasty dishes with the regulars.

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