Wednesday. 9/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Working glass heroes

Until a few days ago I’d never been to Venice. A series of mishaps, including a missed flight more than a decade ago, meant that I’d been close to visiting on several occasions but never quite made it. Despite having seen thousands of photos of its waterways and gently crumbling buildings, its regal Renaissance architecture and beauty didn’t disappoint.

Much talk has been made about now being the time to visit. If you avoid the immediate area around St Mark’s Square, the hordes of tourists are vastly diminished and you can get excellent deals on hotels. And I didn’t see a single cruise ship. But after my trip I came away with a different sensation. I was in town for the fourth edition of Venice Glass Week, which also happened to coincide with the Venice International Film Festival. The architecture biennale might have been postponed until 2021 but these two events went ahead despite the flurry of cancellations elsewhere. David Landau, co-founder of Glass Week, told me that, though there were some reservations, organisers decided that it was “crucial to show that Venice is alive and well”. Indeed, artisanal glass-makers have started to fire up their furnaces again and it’s vital that they do so; the industry was in a challenging spot before the pandemic due to overseas competition and high costs.

Venice has decided that social and economic life has to continue, even if it has changed dramatically. So you can expect a hotel receptionist to point a thermometer gun at your head and you still need to be sensible about distancing. There might be setbacks along the way but Venice is moving ahead with the confidence of a gondolier.

Media / Hungary

Warning signal

Radio Free Europe relaunched in Hungary yesterday following a 27-year hiatus. Originally established by the US during the cold war as a foil to Soviet propaganda, the station has since continued to operate in nations around the world that don’t have access to “the free flow of information”. “It speaks volumes about the sad state of media freedom in an EU country when Radio Free Europe decides to reopen,” says Lydia Gall, Budapest-based senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. Gall says that during the decade of Viktor Orbán’s presidency, the ex-Soviet state’s media has been taken over by the government through indirect acquisitions and politically appointed media authorities. The country has plummeted from its ranking at number 23 in the Press Freedom Index to 89 since Orbán (pictured) took power. “This government is a serious danger to democracy,” says Gall. “But hopefully [Radio Free Europe] will provide an outlet for reporting by skilled journalists.”

Urbanism / Los Angeles

Bright idea

When the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting and the mayor’s office launched a streetlight-design competition late last year, they aimed not only to improve aesthetics but also to tackle other deficiencies in the city. And it seems they have accomplished their mission: the winning entry, by design studio Project Room, reimagines the traditional lamppost as a series of steel or aluminium tubes that can be configured to provide shade or even form a bench.

The design complements the city’s wider commitment to tackle both climate change and walkability issues, as its chief design officer, Christopher Hawthorne, told Monocle 24’s Monocle On Design when the competition was announced. “We don’t really have the luxury in the public right of way of having elements that only do one thing,” he said. After all, he pointed out, why have a streetlight that “just illuminates the road”, when you can have so much more?

Retail / UK

Stock exchange

There has been tension between landlords and retail tenants in recent months over who will bear the cost of lost business. In an attempt to shift that relationship towards a more supportive partnership, UK landlord Grosvenor (owned by the Duke of Westminster) is turning to technology to drive footfall to help its shopkeepers, almost two thirds of which are independent or smaller brands. The company, whose portfolio includes large chunks of prime London real estate, is teaming up with software company NearSt for a two-month trial of location-specific adverts aimed at encouraging people to return to bricks-and-mortar shops by providing real-time inventory information. The firm’s research shows that 83 per cent of shoppers would prefer to buy goods in a nearby store rather than online if they knew that an item was available. It’s undoubtedly convenient – and anything that gets people back into shops is great – but we’d be sad to see the end of the serendipitous discoveries that come from browsing or chance conversations with knowledgeable shopkeepers.

Trade / Finland

Cheese the day

Finland might not be quite as famous for its cheese as France or Switzerland but in Russia the Nordic nation’s dairy products are highly sought after. In fact, Russia was the biggest export market for Valio, Finland’s largest dairy-product manufacturer, until it imposed sanctions on food imports in 2014. Since then, Russians have resorted to crossing the border to get their fill; that is, until coronavirus forced the Finns to issue strict entry restrictions. Smelling an opportunity – and perhaps a particularly pungent aura (a Finnish blue cheese) – a few Russians, who have managed to cross the border, have been buying products in bulk to sell online. Demand has become so pronounced that, in order to manage their stock, some Finnish grocery shops near the border have been forced to set limits on how much customers can buy. But at least it shows that for cheese-loving Russians, where there’s a will, there’s a whey.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘I Hate Suzie’

We discuss I Hate Suzie from Lucy Prebble, playwright and a writer for Succession, and Billie Piper. The TV series is a comedy about an actress whose phone is hacked, leading to compromising photos being leaked on the internet. Lucy Jones and Toby Earle join Robert Bound.

Monocle films / Porto

Making it in Porto

Portugal’s second city is close to the country’s manufacturing heart and that’s why so many designers have made it their home. We meet some of the bright minds in town.

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