Tuesday. 29/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Core concerns

One of the most exciting things about visiting a city isn’t museums or the latest hot-spot restaurant but immersing oneself in its pop culture: what are people reading or watching on TV? That’s exactly what I did on a visit to the Big Apple last week. Some impressions:

1.
As a Eurovision obsessive, it was incredibly fun to watch the first episode of American Song Contest live at NBC studios. But while hosts Kelly Clarkson and Snoop Dogg had good chemistry and I enjoyed Oklahoma’s take on K-pop, it was all a bit too staged. But it was the first of eight episodes so there’s plenty of time to step up the camp.

2.
Morning TV was a particular fascination and remains surprisingly relevant in the age of streaming – even if the incessant ads made me feel like I definitely needed a pill for “something”. Kudos to The Drew Barrymore Show (pictured), which is a bit kooky but preferable to well-worn alternatives Live with Kelly and Ryan and Today with Hoda and Jenna.

3.
The Oscars are still a big deal: the steady stream of A-listers promoting their films in the run-up to the ceremony made that clear. And despite its diminishing live audience, surely every office in the world was talking about Will Smith and Chris Rock yesterday morning.

4.
As a print media fanatic I had to visit some famous newsstands. There’s Casa Magazines, Iconic and Soho News International. I also took to buying The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal daily; the WSJ men’s issue from the weekend edition is one of my favourite supplements.

New York may be ever-present in our pop culture globally but you’d be surprised at how many new impressions you can gather by soaking up the local atmosphere. For my next visit? I’ll be hoping for some celebrity sightings at the Italian staple Sant Ambroeus in the West Village. Who says that you can’t combine hot-spot restaurants and pop culture?

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Israel

Enemy’s enemies

On Monday, Israel wrapped up a two-day summit in the Negev desert attended by officials from several Arab countries, including the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain. It was a rare and historic meeting of top Arab diplomats on Israeli soil, alongside US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett. At the top of the agenda was the war in Ukraine and the impending restoration of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The summit signalled that Israel’s ties with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco are moving from ceremony to substance. The Arab Gulf shares a major strategic interest with Israel: its rivalry with Iran. Despite criticism in the participants’ respective countries, the summit underscored that some of the region’s leaders are willing to risk the backlash from normalising relations with Israel if it means working together against a common foe. That marks a profound shift in the region’s politics.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / Philippines

Strategic pivot

US and Filipino forces have begun their annual joint military drills in the northern Philippines. Almost 9,000 troops will take part in 12 days of combat exercises, making them one of the largest “Balikatan” (“shoulder-to-shoulder”) war games in history. The drills include maritime security, live-fire manoeuvres, aircraft offensives and disaster relief. The pact, which dates back to 1991, has weakened in recent years; pursuing closer ties with China, president Rodrigo Duterte even toyed with abandoning the partnership.

For Richard Heydarian, author of The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy, Duterte’s reversal is “a clear indication that the Philippines is facing renewed threats and geopolitical uncertainties, especially in terms of China expanding its activities in the South China Sea,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “That’s not to mention Russia’s geopolitical adventurism, which has also accentuated the sense of insecurity among smaller countries like the Philippines.”

Image: Getty Images

Media / UK & Afghanistan

Dead air

BBC TV programmes have been taken off the air in Afghanistan after the Taliban issued an edict against local networks broadcasting content made by various international media companies. The BBC fears that the move could have a significant effect on millions of people in the country who rely on its services in Uzbek, Persian (pictured) and Pashto. But not all hope is lost, according to Michael Semple, who served as the EU’s deputy special representative in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2007. “If the Taliban were to succeed in blocking this sort of content, it would be a hugely damaging development – but that horse has already bolted,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “Afghans have become accustomed to using apps to bypass Taliban censorship. The militant leadership in Kabul is unlikely to prevent people from accessing trusted news sources, unless it is prepared to shut down the internet in its entirety.”

Image: Davin Park

F&B / Asia

All you can eat

After a two-year pause on the live ceremony, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards are back today with three simultaneous events in Bangkok, Macau and Tokyo, plus a livestream for those who wish to follow proceedings remotely. The winners are selected by a group of 300 restaurateurs, chefs and writers from across the region.

Nominated restaurants that failed to make the top 50 have already been named, as have the winners of the special awards: Asia’s best female chef, Natsuko Shoji, from Été in Tokyo, who was featured in Sunday’s Monocle Weekend Edition; the icon award, which went to Buddhist chef Jeong Kwan (pictured) from Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea; and a “one to watch”, awarded to Malaysian restaurant Eat and Cook in Kuala Lumpur. While some might question the validity of such a geographically broad competition, it does give the Asian hospitality industry a much-needed shot in the arm.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Bebe Organic

Birgit Kadak founded children’s clothing label Bebe Organic in 2014. A graduate of the London College of Fashion, Kadak had spent her early years in the fashion industry working in luxury womenswear. But after her young son was diagnosed with a sensitive-skin condition, she began to research natural and organic fabrics that he could wear. This personal project grew into a sustainable, stylish collection – and Bebe Organic was born. Inspired by life in the countryside of her native Estonia, her designs have won over clients around the world, from Japan to the US. Today she oversees the production of her clothing in Portugal.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: tasty tipples

Monocle Films visits makers of sherry, gin and whiskey to discover their recipes for success. The memorable flavours and sharp designs of their refined drinks are a perfect tonic for the year ahead.

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