Thursday. 19/11/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Crowd-pleaser

Even before 2020, “crowded” didn’t exactly have the best connotations. “I went to a club yesterday, you wouldn’t believe how crowded it was,” would never have been a glowing review of an evening. But in an exhibition at Turin’s Galleria d’Arte Moderna (currently closed in its physical format but viewable online) the term is taking on quite the opposite undertone.

Organised by the cultural arm of Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo as part of the city’s (now digital) art fair Artissima, the show Folle (“crowds”) has a bittersweet feel. It includes pictures of a great number of people together, spanning Italian history from the 1930s to the 1980s. Visitors to the online gallery find themselves peeking past wide-brimmed hats at the opening of Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera in 1943, clapping alongside huffing and puffing cyclists as they zoom past on the Giro d’Italia, or squeezing onto a packed train heading to the seaside in the boiling August heat. Who’d have thought that a photograph of a squeezed-in gaggle of bystanders at the inauguration of a motorway would be so moving?

A black-and-white shot of dancers (pictured) is the most poignant. If you then close your eyes, the memory really hits: what it felt like to be surrounded by the warmth and motion of a swaying group, the pungent and now irresistibly nostalgic smell of sweat, skin and spilled drinks. In times past, I hankered for an intimate dinner, some proper space to show off my dance moves or a nice spot at the back of a venue to watch a gig undisturbed. But when the right time comes, in a future I don't know how far away, I promise that I’ll smile when I say that I went out – and boy, was it crowded.

Politics / Germany

United front

Protests outside the German parliament yesterday signaled a worrying loss of cohesion in Germany’s struggle to contain the pandemic; they also follow a failure of state premiers to agree a common national approach for December during a meeting with Angela Merkel on Monday. The protests in Berlin came as the Bundestag approved legislation that provides a legal grounding for the aggressive measures already taken by Angela Merkel and state premiers. The law provides for the imposition of a fixed (renewable) timeline of four weeks on restaurant closures, among other lockdown steps. It comes after courts struck down measures such as the closing of hospitality venues in some states, arguing that these were not legal. For some the new agreement still doesn’t provide enough oversight of pandemic-related restrictions – opposition leader Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats called it a “blank cheque”. The legislation means national and state leaders are now playing by the book but should be careful not to be seen to abuse their new powers.

Diplomacy / USA & Israel

Winds of change

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (pictured) is visiting Israel this week, ostensibly to discuss the normalisation of relations between Israel and Arab nations (Bahrain’s foreign minister will also be visiting). But the outgoing secretary of state might also be looking to make some progress while he can, ahead of Joe Biden’s forthcoming administration. The secretary of state is expected to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and discuss additional measures to counter Iranian influence in the region.

Regardless of what might be planned, Jacob Parakilas, a US analyst with British think-tank LSE Ideas, expects that nations in the Middle East could be open to a fresh approach to Iran when Biden enters office. “The fact that the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign has not in fact put an end to the Iranian nuclear programme, nor to Iranian regional aggression, suggests that there might be at least some tacit willingness of the original partners to try a different approach,” he told Monocle 24’s (The Globalist)[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-globalist/2366/].

Society / Japan

Long lost buds

Smartphones and hands-free gadgets have made parts of our life smoother – but sometimes they come at a cost. According to the East Japan Railway Company (JR East), about 950 pairs of wireless headphones were lost on the railway tracks across 78 stations in the Greater Tokyo Area between July and September. Luckily for the owners, the city’s station staff have been going the extra mile by searching for and collecting the misplaced items, even delaying the arrival of approaching trains to do so. That’s a serious headache for the Japanese railway operator whose prime focuses are safety and punctuality. To this end, JR East is working with Panasonic on developing a cordless vacuum-cleaner-like tool to help staff snatch the small earbuds from tracks. It sounds like a smart solution – but might we suggest that diligent passengers do their bit to tone down the problem in the first place.

Retail / Europe

Sole rebels

You’d think that people might have more pressing concerns in a pandemic – but obviously not. The phenomenon that is Lidl shoes has been sweeping Europe. Yes, you heard that right: ever since the German supermarket chain introduced its trainers – in the garish red, yellow and blue colours of its brand – people have been falling over each other to snap them up. At the start of this week they were launched in Italy as part of a “fan collection” that includes socks and flip-flops, while Finland got its hands – or rather feet – on them back in April. Retailing at just €12.99, some have been resold online for hundreds of euros. It’s a social-media success story that is likely to make Lidl’s marketing team very happy indeed. We remain rather baffled nonetheless.

M24 / On Design

Designing a better nation

We speak to Edi Rama, the Albanian prime minister behind the colourful façades of the capital, Tirana. Plus, a look at the posters plastered across the streets of Zürich.

Monocle Films / Finland

The home of the Finnish art scene

We tour the breathtaking studios of artists’ residence Lallukka in Helsinki, which hasn’t changed its purpose since it was completed in 1933. The landmark functionalist building offers spaces at low rents so that its tenants can focus on one thing: making art.

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