Thursday. 29/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Letter from… Milan

During the height of the pandemic, cities such as Milan and Bergamo were eerily devoid of people, the quiet punctuated by frequent ambulance sirens. In the past few days, residents here have been remarking on a return of that dreaded sound. The memories are still too fresh.

For a while, things felt as though they’d almost returned to normal in Milan. Over the summer no one was in town anyway, decamping to the beaches of Sardinia and Sicily. Remarkably, when cases surged in France and Spain, it seemed as though Italy had escaped the worst – people were even kissing each other at aperitivo and going out for meals in restaurants. But this month everything has started to head in the wrong direction. On Tuesday alone the country registered more than 17,000 new cases – more than 5,000 of them in Milan’s Lombardy region.

The approach of the Italian government, led by a now-always-masked prime minister Giuseppe Conte, is a slowly, slowly approach. From 13 October it cautiously began to tighten the screw on coronavirus regulations, saying that it wanted to avoid a lockdown. Lombardy’s Lega governor Attilio Fontana took tougher measures, asking the national government whether he could impose a regional curfew from 23.00 until 05.00 and limit bar and restaurant openings. For a few days, alcohol couldn’t be sold in supermarkets after 18.00, before that particularly unpopular measure was reversed.

While curfews are up to the regions – and have led to notable protests in Naples – an announcement by Conte on Sunday was another step towards a feared national lockdown. Aperitivo hour has now been snuffed out as bars and restaurants, which allow no more than four people per table, have to close by 18.00. Gyms, cinemas, theatres, casinos, swimming pools and, in some regions, shopping centres are all closed, although museums remain open for now.

The new steps prompted protests in Milan and Turin (among other places) this week. Conte has been keen to point out that, this time around, the measures are pragmatic and aimed at protecting both people and the economy, which is why many shops are still open. But some worry that a full lockdown is only a matter of time.

Politics / Thailand

Life imitating art

The second edition of the Bangkok Art Biennale gets fully underway this week. Although several exhibitions launched earlier to aid physical distancing, the majority of them open to the public today, including a new Anish Kapoor commission at the Wat Pho Buddhist temple (pictured) on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. According to artistic director Apinan Poshyananda, the event’s theme was selected prior to the coronavirus outbreak for a world already in crisis. “Escape Routes” was chosen to highlight issues from climate change to racism and terrorism. But organisers and participating artists have had to adapt and will be relieved to see that the pandemic is under control in the Thai capital. However, there is another growing crisis on its margins as pro-democracy demonstrators take to the streets to challenge the monarchy and call for the government to step down. While many in Bangkok look for a way out of this political standoff, the theme of the biennale seems particularly prescient.

Trade / UK

Done deal?

In 2018 the UK set its sights on increasing its exports from 30 to 35 per cent of GDP, though no timeframe was provided. But the trend has so far been the reverse. Yesterday the public accounts committee in the country’s parliament published a report highlighting a lack of domestic support for exporters and a failure by government departments to exploit “growth opportunities” for UK companies abroad.

There’s another explanation too: the EU is by far the UK’s largest trading partner and exports cannot easily be replaced by trade deals with other blocs. “No amount of [support for exporters] can change the damage that Brexit will do to international trade,” Peter Holmes, fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, tells The Monocle Minute. “You’re going to reduce exports if you put up barriers with trading partners.” All the more incentive, then, for the UK to push for a last-gasp EU trade deal in the coming weeks. It’s unlikely that it would see the UK hit its 2018 target but it would help to stem its losses.

Culture / USA

Selling the family silver

Planned deaccession sales at the Baltimore Museum of Art (pictured) and the Brooklyn Museum have reignited a global debate about whether museums should be able to auction artworks to support longer-term activities or, in some cases, ensure their financial survival. This week the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), an affiliation spanning North America, warned that art shouldn’t be sold off for reasons other than the preservation of collections. But its autumn memorandum feels as though it’s too little, too late. Indeed it was the AAMD’s own decision to relax its rules in April that allowed the current spate of auctions in the US to take place. Even if museums have (mostly) good intentions and are creating initiatives that support their communities, the option to rake in funds through auctions will inevitably tempt more of them to put items from their collections up for sale in the future. Drawing the line between what constitutes a cause that’s worthy of such income and what doesn’t has become increasingly complex.

Fashion / Japan

Worn again

Sustainability has always been key for US outdoor brand The North Face. Its licence owner in Japan, Goldwin, has a repair centre in Toyama prefecture where it restores garments that have been worn everywhere from expeditions in the Himalayas to city streets. Now Goldwin has taken its repair services to the next level. Yesterday it launched an online consultancy service – which runs until 1 November – enabling its customers to speak directly to the specialists in Toyama and discuss how best they can extend the longevity of their own beloved clothes. Then, from 5 to 9 November, the same specialists will be on hand to answer questions at The North Face Standard shop in Futakotamagawa, Tokyo. The initiative is already attracting a strong response and the online sessions are booking up quickly. It’s a snug fit for a country where people take good care of well-made products that are built to last.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Animal architecture

How do we design for our furry, scaled and feathered companions? We talk to architect Asif Khan about his work for man’s best friend, profile the designers who are making creature comforts a priority and unpack the best in product design for dogs.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, our new book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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