Wednesday. 11/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Fernando Augusto Pacheco

National anthems

Norwegian wolves that love bananas, Latvians commanding us to eat our greens and a Serbian singer informing us that “dark circles around the eyes could indicate liver problems” – it can only be the Eurovision Song Contest. The world’s greatest musical competition is more popular than ever and draws an international audience of about 200 million viewers. Turin will host the finals of the 66th edition this Saturday and it promises to be a vintage year.

The clear favourite is Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra with their song “Stefania” – Eurovision has always been about more than just music. That said, it’s a strong entry, cleverly mixing Ukrainian folk with hip-hop. Vocalist Oleh Psiuk (pictured) told me that the song was written for his mother before Russia’s invasion of his homeland. “After the war began, the song gained many new meanings,” he said. “People started to interpret it as being about ‘Mother Ukraine’ or about missing their mothers. That’s how the song became very popular in Ukraine.”

The Italian hosts have an excellent entry with the return of Mahmood, who first represented the country at Eurovision in 2019; this time, he performs a ballad with Lombardy-born singer Blanco. Sweden is strong as usual and even the UK’s Sam Ryder deserves to win at least one point for his country (we’ll see). Elsewhere, Spain’s entry, Chanel’s “SloMo”, provides the obligatory booty-shaking and Iceland goes all-out folk. There’ll be many delights on offer.

Follow Fernando Augusto Pacheco’s coverage of Eurovision from Turin on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Southeast Asia

United front

A special summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) gets underway at the White House tomorrow with the aim of formulating a co-ordinated response to an increasingly belligerent China. Eight leaders from the 10-nation bloc will be in attendance, all keen to hear more from Joe Biden about his plans for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The White House initially released a white paper for the strategically important region in February, covering everything from the threat of climate change-related disasters to maritime security, but it was quickly overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The majority of Asean member states have yet to sanction Russia and the White House is expected to use this opportunity to apply pressure on the likes of Thailand and Indonesia to take a tougher stance towards Moscow. Should they refuse, it might have the unwanted consequence of sending a message to Beijing that aggression might not necessarily mean unanimous reproach.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Germany

Engine trouble

Germany’s transport minister, Volker Wissing, has proposed almost doubling electric-vehicle (EV) subsidies to help his country to achieve its climate targets. The move would mean that customers would receive as much as €10,800 in government support for a car costing up to €40,000. Critics accuse Wissing, a member of the pro-business Free Democrats, of putting the health of Germany’s €380bn automobile industry ahead of the planet by focusing on EVs instead of legislation to control emissions.

Having missed its most recent emissions targets, Germany’s transport ministry is under increased scrutiny. But with the initial reception of the proposal outside the party or car industry looking frosty at best, the ministry has tried to shift the focus towards 50 other emissions-reducing reforms, including climate-neutral aviation and the digitisation of railways. Even with these distractions, it will surely take an almighty effort from Wissing to get his plans off the starting grid.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / USA

Fighting words

The Pen World Voices Festival opens today in New York and Los Angeles for the first time since 2019. “The festival is always responding to the moment and the moment that we’re in today is marked by the war in Ukraine,” says Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf (pictured), Pen America’s senior director of literary programmes. “How do we elevate literature as a tool for social change but also celebrate its power – the power of storytelling, the power of words – to create more understanding and empathy?”

As well as dozens of talks and events, a congress will be convened on Friday to discuss the role of writers in times of upheaval, inspired by a similar Pen conference that was held on the eve of the Second World War. In that meeting, at the 1939 World’s Fair, writer and Pen international president Jules Romains suggested that it was time for “the pen to fight the sword”. This week’s four-day event will be aiming not just for stirring words but action too.

Image: Benjamin Schmuck

Culture / France

Drawing inspiration

Known as “the ninth art” in France, comic books are no laughing matter. Last year a record 85 million copies were sold in the country and the industry is worth about €890m to the French economy. Despite a rich history of homegrown series (such as the Asterix comics and Le Petit Nicolas children’s books), the biggest draws at this year’s Angoulême International Comics Festival, held in the picturesque southwestern town, were from Japan.

As elsewhere, manga is big business in France: half of all comic books sold in the country today are written and illustrated by Japanese artists. Hitherto ambivalent booksellers have had to adapt. “When I was a teenager, people were very prejudiced against manga,” says Éleonore Amar, who manages Paris’s Bulles en tête Vaugirard. “It was frowned upon because people thought it was violent or erotic. They didn’t realise that there are mangas about everything.”

For more on this booming industry, read the full report from Angoulême in the May issue of Monocle, out now.

Image: Alamy

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