Wednesday. 21/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Paige Reynolds

Trading places

While I was a student of the impossible complexities of the Russian language, I spent a year studying in Moscow. Arriving, somewhat embarrassingly, in a matching fur coat and hat, it was not only my aesthetic stereotypes that were quickly shattered. As I began to meet young Russians I realised that, surprisingly, our politics were often aligned but our opportunities for cross-cultural exchange were not.

Last week, the EU imposed new sanctions barring some Russian officials from visiting Europe. But a tweet by Kirill Shamiev, a Russian PhD student based in Vienna, has gained traction for suggesting an alternative approach: visa liberalisation for Russians under the age of 25. His reasoning? “[Russians living abroad] see that pavements can be pleasant, trams can be cosy and silent, and police officers can smile,” Shamiev tells me. “They meet their peers, go to clubs together, visit art exhibitions or just drink beer on a riverbank. Before, they belonged to a ‘state’ with strict borders; now they feel connected with the EU. It’s a whole new perspective.” Shamiev also points to recent surveys suggesting that young Russians already have a positive attitude to Europe and are more likely to engage civically when they return from time abroad.

The long-term impact of the EU sanctions feels negligible and could even help the Kremlin hyperbolise Europe’s hostility towards it. And although relaxing visa restrictions is increasingly rare, perhaps this would be a better way of strengthening future relations with Moscow. Opening EU borders to young Russians could drive a greater wedge between Vladimir Putin and those who will one day be shaping the country’s political future.

Finance / Hong Kong

Point of sale

Foreign investors are pouring money into Hong Kong ahead of the hotly anticipated initial public offering (IPO) of Ant Group, which received regulatory clearance this week. The Chinese fintech firm, which was spun out of Alibaba and runs the popular Alipay payments system, is expected to become the biggest IPO of all time. But China’s crowning glory could prove to be a thorny issue in the US. Florida senator Marco Rubio is leading calls for the Trump administration to delay the listing as part of the US government’s suite of sanctions against Beijing for its political crackdown on Hong Kong. Rubio’s rhetoric is unlikely to crush Ant Group, especially as several Wall Street banks are expected to have a bumper payday courtesy of the IPO. But it’s another sign of the challenge facing privately owned Chinese companies looking abroad – Ant Group will not want to be in US crosshairs as it looks to take Alipay global.

Design / Italy

Ahead of his time

Italian furniture designer Enzo Mari (pictured), who died on Monday at the age of 88, has been described as a titan, a polymath and one of the most prolific and respected practitioners in his field. With more than 1,500 projects to his name during a 60-year career, his collaborations with brands from Artemide to Zanotta, and personal work as an artist and illustrator, have earned him a place in the annals of design history. A 250-piece retrospective currently on display in Milan’s Triennale will be the last chance for many to witness his legacy first hand due to a specification from the designer that his archive cannot be displayed for 40 years after his death.

“Mari felt that only in 40 years would his objectives and design principles be truly appreciated,” Monocle’s Rome correspondent David Plaisant told The Globalist. “That really explains him: he’s unapproachable, he’s unflinching and yet he’s more relevant now than ever.”

Society / Canada

Name dropping

There are more than a few places with names that attract giggling tourists. Some are lost in translation like Fucking in Austria or Hell, Norway; others are just unfortunate, such as Twatt, Scotland or Boring, Oregon. By contrast, the town of Asbestos in Québec now has more obvious negative connotations. The name reflects its primary industry: the town was originally created in the 1870s around an asbestos mine, which brought prosperity for decades as the mineral was used widely as fireproof insulation. With the carcinogenic material now widely discarded for its health risks, residents this week decided that their town will be known as Val-des-Sources or “Valley of the Sources”, inspired by its position at the confluence of three lakes. A name doesn’t a town make but evoking an image of natural beauty might help its townsfolk breathe a sigh of relief.

Hospitality / Japan

Custom designed

Hoteliers in Japan are looking ahead to more positive times. This week, Adrian Zecha, founder of Aman Resorts, announced the launch of a new ryokan brand, Azumi, along with young Japanese hospitality group Naru Developments. Zecha, who spent time in Tokyo as a correspondent for Time magazine in the 1950s, has long been a fan of the warmth and individuality of classic ryokan inns where, he says, “I was treated as someone in-between a guest and a dear family friend.” Azumi aims to offer a fresh perspective on that traditional style of hospitality by delving deep into Japanese culture and cuisine, while keeping up with the needs of the modern traveller. Azumi’s co-founders are Yuta Oka – the brains behind this year’s K5 hotel opening in Tokyo – and Fumitomo Hayase (also ex-Aman), who have a wealth of experience between them. The first Azumi hotel will open on an island in the Setouchi region in spring next year.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

David Byrne’s ‘American Utopia’

As David Byrne’s hit Broadway show ‘American Utopia’ arrives on screens in a new film by Spike Lee, Robert Bound chats with Tim Robey and Hilary Hughes about Byrne’s history of revolutionising live performance, Lee’s imprint on the show and its relevance in the current political climate.

Monocle Films / Spain

Creative Mallorca

Palma has kept its charm for young creatives despite its tourist-trodden streets. We meet the people keeping this city alive.

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