Tuesday. 21/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Breaking news

Canada’s election

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

In the picture

Over the past year we’ve talked a lot about the long-awaited return of art fairs – what that might mean for the market, the way it is shifting and the rise of digital auctions. We’ve asked ourselves whether seeing an artwork in the flesh means that making the effort to actually show up, rather than just bidding online, is worth our while. But as Art Basel in Basel – the art fair of all art fairs – opens its preview today, we need to acknowledge just how personal going to an event like this can be.

I’m a seasoned trade-fair-hall pounder. I’ve trawled the grounds in Munich, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Florence, Milan, Miami and, of course, Basel countless times. I’m used to the way in which friends and acquaintances tend to describe the experience of going to a fair as somewhat sadomasochistic. Everybody goes to extreme lengths to explain how busy, tired and sleep-deprived they are; how they can’t wait for all of the madness to subside. And yet, year after year, people return. Why?

Perhaps it’s because people love rituals – and other people. I’m looking forward to today because Art Basel has given me an occasion to get in touch again (with customarily ambitious requests) with the most patient and angelic PR, who has saved me many times and with whom I’ve shared both stresses and late-night parties. I can’t wait to spot the collectors I’ve interviewed over the years ogling at the artworks displayed in certain booths. And I’m looking forward to dinner with a German gallerist and her rep, who say “yes” whenever I come calling; they wouldn’t do so often if we didn’t make time for each other in Basel and elsewhere. That – and the art, of course – is why people keep coming back for more.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Hong Kong

Forgone conclusion

Hong Kong yesterday wrapped up its first elections since the Chinese government radically overhauled the polling system in May. Pro-Beijing candidates won nearly all of the 364 seats up for grabs on Hong Kong’s 1,500-person Election Committee; just one of the available seats went to the opposition and the rest were filled by appointment. The results aren’t surprising, given that the government billed the changes as a way to guarantee that “patriots” would govern Hong Kong. The revamp of elections to the committee, which will select Hong Kong’s new leader in 2022, made it effectively impossible for pro-democracy candidates to run, while the voting pool shrank by 97 per cent, leaving only about 4,800 people eligible to cast votes at all – fewer than the number of police officers deployed to handle potential street unrest. The sham election highlights that the Beijing-led crackdown on Hong Kong’s political system, in the wake of the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protests, is nearly complete.

Image: Alamy

Aviation / Germany

Connecting flights

Germany’s Lufthansa is planning to issue new shares in a bid to remove the German government from its list of shareholders. The goal is to return €2.14bn, which was part of a €9bn rescue package paid during the bleakest days of the coronavirus pandemic, when the airline was forced to ground almost its entire fleet.

The sell-off would also rid Lufthansa of European Commission restrictions, including bans on executive bonuses and taking more than a 10 per cent stake in a rival airline. Chief executive Carsten Spohr said that the full repayment of its loan would allow Lufthansa to focus fully on transforming the airline for the future, which could mean a focus on mergers. While bookings are up and a host of airlines are reopening routes or adding new ones, many carriers, including Lufthansa, are still burning through cash. Spohr believes that there are still too many airlines in Europe; making consolidation the likely flight path.

Image: Alamy

Elections / Bahamas

Political whirlwind

Philip Davis, the new prime minister of the Bahamas, is tasked with setting up a government after elections last week that, as with recent polls in many parts of the world, served largely as a referendum on the government’s handling of the pandemic. His predecessor, Hubert Minnis (pictured), had been hoping to become the first person in the role in 24 years to win a second five-year term. But with unemployment rates on the archipelago at 20 per cent and tourism slumping, voters were disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, Davis, a member of the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), vowed to fight poverty, reduce value-added taxes and increase levies on the islands’ richest residents. But Davis will also have to deal with rising coronavirus cases and a country reeling from the effects of Hurricane Dorian. Local analysts are hoping that Davis hasn’t signed up for more than he can handle.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Thailand

Parking the car

A new fleet of urban gardens has appeared in Thailand as taxi drivers have transformed the roofs of their cabs into small vegetable plots. Two taxi co-operatives teamed up last week to spearhead the initiative and draw attention to the plight of their drivers. A new wave of coronavirus lockdown measures has badly hit the industry in Bangkok, where only 500 cars continue to work and another 2,500 are sitting idle. Taxi companies are also struggling to repay loans on the purchase of their fleets and the government has yet to offer direct financial support. The rooftop gardens, which are being used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans, are not only an eye-catching way to highlight the industry’s troubles but are also helping to feed the staff. Here’s hoping that Bangkok’s green-fingered taxi drivers can soon get back behind the wheel – and that the government offers them urgently needed support in the meantime.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Marimekko 70th anniversary auction

We hear about Finnish fashion house Marimekko’s 70th-anniversary auction of rare vintage items at Bukowskis, titled The Artists Who Shaped Us.

Monocle Films / Zürich

In praise of balconies

Look up as you stroll Zürich’s streets and you’ll see these outdoor living rooms everywhere. Monocle Films visited the city to outline this architectural feature and how it improves quality of life.

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