Thursday. 22/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Emma Searle

Up in flames

Last weekend a wildfire raged on South Africa’s iconic Table Mountain for more than 24 hours before wreaking havoc across an area containing the University of Cape Town, destroying several campus buildings and forcing thousands to leave their homes. Firefighters have now contained the blaze but perhaps the biggest blow has been cultural: it became clear this week that it caused major damage to important archives of African history held at the university.

Among the buildings gutted in the fire was the Special Collections Library, a national treasure. It housed archival sources including hard-to-find volumes in indigenous languages and one of the world’s largest collections of African films. As a former student at the University of Cape Town, I remember spending hours in the library’s grand reading room, combing through everything from original letters written by one of Africa’s most celebrated artists, Irma Stern, to opinion pieces by anti-apartheid activists. Indeed, the majority of my university thesis papers relied heavily on resources hidden within the archive’s ceiling-high shelves – as well as on the friendly, white glove-wearing team of archivists who patiently helped me source boxes of niche newspaper clippings.

“These were treasures from centuries ago – vital history which can never be replaced,” Gail Symington, a former senior lecturer of classics at the university, told The Monocle Minute. “It’s a complete tragedy.” Far from being glorified book depositories, city libraries are vital protectors of memory. And in a country like South Africa, where the scars of apartheid still run deep, losing voices from the past is nothing short of devastating.

Emma Searle is a producer with Monocle 24.

Society / USA

Only the beginning

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last May was captured in merciless detail on the phone-cameras of bystanders, sparking a global anti-racism movement in the process. The video footage and trial testimony by fellow police officers were key reasons why a jury needed less than 24 hours to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder on Tuesday. But as US president Joe Biden and others noted, the fact that a collective effort was needed to to secure such an unprecedented conviction signals that there’s much more to be done. Though the moment is worth celebrating, “I don’t think we can call what happened a racial reckoning,” NYU law professor Deborah Archer told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “What we saw was individual accountability. We still have to have the conversation on accountability beyond bad actors.” The past year has started that discussion on more fundamental reforms, she adds. “They are just the first step. We have a long road ahead.”

Listen to our daily shows this week for ongoing coverage of Derek Chauvin’s conviction and the reaction to it, and check out past episodes on Monocle 24 such as ‘The Foreign Desk’ and ‘The Urbanist’ for insightful explorations of police reform.

Retail / UK

Uncommon goods

The somewhat confusing schedules for the reopening of cultural pursuits across Europe have caused repeated controversy: in the UK, for instance, commercial galleries were allowed to open again on 12 April but museums are having to wait until over a month after that. In Italy, the fact that churches have been able to welcome people before cultural venues has prompted spiky conversations about religion’s hold on the state.

That’s why a project such as the rethought gift shop in London’s Design Museum feels particularly poignant: the museum has turned its retail space into a temporary supermarket, stocking grocery essentials from washing-up liquid to coffee and toilet paper. Of course, there’s a twist: only 1,500 of each item is available and the packaging is designed by up-and-coming artists. With governments still sending mixed messages, the shop’s tagline “Creativity is Essential” speaks loud and clear.

Aviation / Europe

High hopes

United Airlines (UA) has reported strong demand in the US for travel to Greece, Iceland and Croatia after the countries announced their respective reopenings to vaccinated Americans. The airline is also optimistic about transatlantic travel, which has been restricted since March 2020, due to falling cases of coronavirus and the growing number of vaccinations in the UK. “We have the aircraft standing by,” says Andrew Nocella, UA’s executive vice-president and chief commercial officer. Although the US is still wavering on when to open travel corridors, Nocella anticipates that UA will operate up to 10 daily flights to London Heathrow this summer. Airlines eyeing European travel were also no doubt encouraged last week by the EU’s plan for a vaccine passport scheme, the Digital Green Certificate, to be operational by 21 June. For EU member states reliant on tourism, the lifting of restrictions can’t come soon enough. And with clear demand for travel from those safely inoculated, prospects are looking increasingly promising for summer.

Fashion / Global

Earth tones

Fashion brands are ramping up efforts to make their supply chains more sustainable ahead of new targets expected at the UN climate summit in November. In honour of Earth Day today we look at three brands giving the circular economy a whirl.

Gentle use. Canada-founded global athletic wear brand Lululemon is launching a pilot project next month inviting customers to trade in “gently used” clothing for store credit. The second-hand goods will then be resold and profits used to support the brand’s other sustainability initiatives.

Short-term needs: Isabella Oliver, a UK-based maternity brand (pictured), has launched a rental scheme and “pre-loved” resale service. Both are part of its bid to “radically change the maternity sector”, in which customers are more likely to buy fast fashion than to invest in quality because their maternity clothing needs are (by definition) short-term.

Luxury resale: The 1845-founded US label Mark Cross is reselling vintage handbags dating back to the late 1800s. It’s an unusual move for a high-end brand but should help to tell the story of the company, which is largely unknown outside the industry.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Palm Springs and mid-century modernism

We head to Palm Springs, the idyllic desert retreat that’s become synonymous with mid-century modern architecture, to explore why this unassuming corner of California became a hub for modernist design.

Monocle Films / Italy

Wine special: South Tyrol

A new generation of wine producers in South Tyrol have shifted the focus from quantity to quality, now successfully concentrating on what makes the tipple from this region so special. We visit Merano Wine Festival to meet the people behind this change in the Italian Alps.

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