Tuesday. 17/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald

Well versed

Politicians quoting poetry is not always a good idea but it seems to work for US president-elect Joe Biden. In his nomination speech and throughout his election campaign, Biden frequently cited Irish poet Seamus Heaney (pictured), particularly his line on how “hope and history rhyme” from The Cure at Troy, the late Nobel Laureate’s version of Sophocles’s drama Philoctetes. A clip from Ireland’s national broadcaster, showing the president-elect in a post-victory speech reading his favourite passage that calls for “...a great sea-change / On the far side of revenge” went viral on social media, clocking up more than 10 million views.

Heaney wrote those lines long before the 1998 peace agreement that brought the 30-year conflict in his native Northern Ireland to an end. But when I lived in post-agreement Belfast, references to The Cure at Troy were everywhere. Its verses peppered speeches, inspired book titles and newspaper headlines, and helped gird difficult conversations on reconciliation. Biden’s own love for Heaney and other Irish poets – he once quipped that “they’re the best poets” – springs from his Irish ancestry. As a teenager, Biden recited WB Yeats in his bedroom to help ease his stutter. Biden the politician discovered that Heaney’s work and message of reconciliation has the power to resonate deeply with audiences far beyond Ireland.

The fact that Biden speaks often and fondly of his Irish roots is something that UK officials should also bear in mind as negotiations over a post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU come down to the wire this week. It was telling that Biden’s first round of calls to international leaders last week included a conversation with Ireland’s prime minister, Micheál Martin. Biden has already warned Boris Johnson not to do anything in negotiations with the EU that could threaten peace in Northern Ireland. Perhaps Johnson should start reading up on Irish poetry too.

Mary Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist and regular Monocle contributor.

Society / Japan

Going for gold

On Monday, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach made his first visit to Japan since the 2020 Summer Games were cancelled and the message was clear: the Olympics will be happening in Tokyo in 2021 come what may. Bach, who met with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike and other top officials, said that the Games would be a symbol of unity in what will “hopefully be a post-coronavirus world”. Suga (pictured, on the right, with Bach) echoed that sentiment, saying, “We’re determined to host the Games as proof that humankind has defeated the coronavirus pandemic.” The prime minister had other reasons to be cheerful too: Japan yesterday posted its highest GDP rise in 40 years. However, the Japanese public remains less confident: after many months of almost entirely closed borders they’ll need convincing that the Olympics can be held safely. Bach’s comment that international athletes and visitors will arrive here vaccinated – if, by then, a vaccine is available – might not be enough of a guarantee.

Elections / Moldova

Fresh perspective

Moldova has chosen a new president. Pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu beat incumbent Igor Dodon – a pro-Russian politician who enjoys the support of Vladimir Putin – in a landslide win, taking as much as 57.7 per cent the vote according to preliminary counts of Sunday’s run-off poll. Sandu (pictured), a former economist for the World Bank who was briefly Moldova’s prime minister in 2019, campaigned on a platform of cracking down on corruption and fixing the economy.

Tucked between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is the poorest nation in Europe and many believe that it would benefit from closer economic ties to the 27-nation EU bloc. However, despite Sandu’s victory, a dramatic shift westwards isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Dodon’s party remains the largest group in parliament and although EU officials such as Donald Tusk supported Sandu’s election, Moldova will need to get its house in order before the relationship can deepen much further.

Defence / USA

Snap shots

Photographer Ben Brody’s career began in the US military. His 2019 book Attention Servicemember is an account of his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the role of propaganda – but this year has provided much more to add to its pages. A second edition published last month includes images of the US military deployed on the streets of Washington over summer. “I thought I was finished with the book,” he tells the Monocle Minute. “But 2020 turned out to be a very different year. Being able to connect the thread between the wars we all brought home in our own minds and the seeds of war being planted on our city streets was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.” For Brody the book serves as a warning to anyone who fetishises the rhetoric of conflict stoked by Donald Trump. “The polarisation in the US right now is starting to become violent,” he says. “War will not result in the glorification of your ideology; that’s just not how it functions.”

Fashion / Italy

Straight to video

The first episode of a seven-part miniseries co-directed by Gus van Sant and Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele was released last night as part of the Italian fashion house’s Guccifest online event. The series, Ouverture of Something that Never Ended, follows actor Silvia Calderoni (pictured) through the streets of Rome as she runs into the likes of Harry Styles and Florence Welch – all sporting the brand’s latest collection. The remaining episodes will be released one at a time over the next six days. Guccifest is a canny way for the house to present a new range in a year when lockdowns have made runways and in-person fashion shows a challenge. It also makes the unveiling of the collection accessible to anyone with an internet connection – a more democratic approach than the exclusive glitz of fashion shows. The digital event runs until 22 November.

M24 / The Menu

Towpath Café

We visit Towpath Café, one of East London’s hidden gems. Also on the programme: how the Swedish island of Gotland has become a destination for truffle hunting.

Monocle Films / Health

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. Order your copy at The Monocle Shop.

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