Thursday. 2/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Felix Odell

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Against the current

Before she retired, my Italian aunt worked as an opera singer at Turin’s Teatro Regio (pictured). Sometimes, if she was in the mood, she would agree to sing us something while doing the dishes after Sunday lunch. Her voice might not have cracked the crystal glasses like a Looney Tunes scene but those impromptu arias have stuck with me because of their volume and physicality. The sound would erupt from her chest and grab you by the shoulders.

This is why, try as I might, I cannot get excited about Italy’s new state-funded culture streaming platform Itsart. Launched across 26 countries in Europe last week, this “Netflix of culture” will host hundreds of virtual tours of sites and exhibitions, documentaries and opera performances. The idea is to bolster the coffers of a sector that has suffered from a reduction in tourist numbers. But is this a realistic way forward?

Documentaries and films live quite comfortably on the small screen but museum exhibitions and operas do not. Asking people to visit the Galleria Borghese digitally was enough of a stretch during the first lockdown but at this point, how many still have an appetite for that kind of viewing?

There are plenty of things we can, and should, learn from how the pandemic has shaken up the cultural sector but visiting the Uffizi in person is one of those things that is worth the effort. So no, I’m not going to spend €9.90 to tune in to a live-streamed opera. The cheapest ticket for La Bohème at the Teatro Regio in February, when its in-person season reopens, is €60. I’d rather spend a bit extra on the live experience.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Japan

Flight risk

In response to news about the novel Omicron variant of coronavirus, Japan has enacted a firm retightening of border controls. Yesterday the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism requested that airline companies not take any new bookings on flights arriving in the country this month; Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have already announced that they will consent. Although neighbouring South Korea has recently recorded high case numbers of the virus, the pandemic in Japan has been kept under control. So despite the inconvenience, this action is likely to be appreciated by the Japanese public, who are wary of another full lockdown. But it will rankle with nationals living overseas who have not yet booked flights home for the holiday season. Spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with family is important to Japanese people – equivalent to Christmas celebrations in other countries – and the new rules have come as a cruel surprise after an optimistic few months.

Image: MEGA

Fashion / USA

Fitting tribute

Louis Vuitton’s final posthumous runway show with Virgil Abloh as creative director demonstrated how lucky the French brand was to have had him steering its menswear since 2018. Titled Virgil Was Here, Tuesday’s spring/summer 2022 presentation had been planned to coincide with the opening of Art Basel Miami but was transformed to serve as a tribute to Abloh after his death from cancer on Sunday, aged 41. The clothes bear his joyful streetwear-meets-high-fashion stamp and prove that Abloh’s legacy as a trailblazer – he was the first black designer to head a major fashion house – needn’t overshadow the power of his artistry and intelligence. Yes, he was part of an industry that has been rightly criticised for commodifying black culture but that does not diminish the cleverness and creativity with which he made reference to high art, pop culture and his own life experiences. Let’s hope that other similarly influential houses are able to tap such visionaries in the future – that’s the legacy Abloh is said to have wanted most.

Image: Olaf Malzahn/Femern A/S

Transport / Germany

Tunnel vision

Construction has begun on what will be the world’s longest underwater road and rail tunnel, connecting the islands of Fehmarn in Germany and Lolland in Denmark. Although the countries share a land border further to the west, an 18km strip of the Baltic Sea currently makes travel between Copenhagen and northern Germany awkwardly circuitous. Once finished, the €7bn Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link, scheduled for completion in 2029, will almost halve the train-journey time between Hamburg and the Danish capital to just two and a half hours. To traverse the tunnel itself, trains will take just seven minutes and cars 10. The project has been in discussion since 1991 but work is finally underway on both sides of the border after a ground-breaking ceremony (pictured) in the German village of Puttgarden this week. Time will tell whether deadlines and expectations are met but this bold and smart move shows what’s possible when two countries are on the same track.

Image: Petri Anttila

Business / Finland

Venture forth

Europe’s largest start-up event, Slush, concludes today in Helsinki. The two-day conference has attracted almost 10,000 entrepreneurs, investors, scientists and policymakers to the Finnish capital. Over an intensive 48 hours, the ideas-people meet for presentations, talks and pitching rounds with those who have the money. “This year, Slush is more investor- and entrepreneur-focused than ever before,” Marianne Vikkula, vice-president of new markets at Finnish technology company Wolt, told The Monocle Minute. “There are more than 3,200 growth-company founders and operators present, as well as 1,700 investors. I heard someone say that this is the most venture capital concentrated in one place that they have ever experienced.” And it’s fun too: networking has been running into the early hours at the many parties and events scattered around Helsinki.

For more on Slush 2021, tune in to today’s episode of ‘The Globalist’.

M24 / Monocle on Design

M+ museum, Maripedia and Lilli Hollein

We head to M+, Hong Kong’s impressive new visual-culture museum. Plus: we learn about Finnish fashion brand Marimekko’s pattern database and Alexei Korolyov meets Lilli Hollein, director of Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts.

Monocle Films / Copenhagen

Christmas shopping in Copenhagen

We go on a jaunt around the Danish capital to find the best – and sharpest – retail outposts for all your stocking-filler needs.

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