Saturday 17 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 17/2/2024

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Looking up

This week we ponder German politics’ beauty premium, make a pilgrimage to a Colombian city’s Shakira statue and try on new treads from a French heritage footwear brand that you should be keeping an eye on this year. But first, Andrew Tuck shares a few nuggets of wisdom from Dubai’s World Government Summit…

The opener / Andrew Tuck

Follow the leaders

I spent the week at Dubai’s World Government Summit (WGS), an event with the simple ambition of encouraging better governance and global solidarity. It ran for four days, several thousand people attended and spontaneous conversations erupted all over the place. Here are 10 takeaways.

The UAE has leveraged its geographical location to become a place where the Global South can feel at ease. African presidents and prime ministers came out in force: at one point, we stood behind Rwanda’s Paul Kagame in the coffee queue. A banker of note told us that the WGS gave voice to these leaders and didn’t try to drag them into disputes between the superpowers. Perhaps that is why the Ukraine war was barely mentioned.

The UAE showed itself to be at ease welcoming people with disparate views onto the stage. Where else would you have found both Tony Blair and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson (not, to be stressed, at the same time)?

Many Western governments didn’t show up. Perhaps they felt that the presence of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan or India’s Narendra Modi was insignificant.

There’s an impressive new generation of Emirati leaders. My colleague Luke and I spent some time with Omar Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s 34-year-old minister of state for artificial intelligence and a rising star. He has helped to make Dubai a key part of this technological revolution.

We had an invitation for a royal audience. I might have talked a bit too much.

I was at the WGS to present a series of discussions on the future of the city. I was struck by how even people on the front lines of climate-change battles spoke with the positivity and ambition that just seem to come with being in Dubai. A visiting adviser to the UAE government said that in the past he had told people here to emulate Singapore but that they no longer needed Asian role models: this was now the case-study city to visit. (Though when the city ground to a halt after a deluge of rain, it became clear that challenges remain.)

Traditional dress is a good look. I learned that you can tell whether someone is Emirati, Qatari, Saudi or Kuwaiti from their thobe and headwear. (The Kuwaiti version has a collar and an extra piece of cloth as a side insert – “It’s so much more comfortable,” I was informed.) People looked sharp and, endearingly, several times I spotted men asking a friend or colleague to help them perfect the angle or draping of their headdress.

I picked up some good phrases. An Emirati friend explained that Dubai had changed so fast that much of even its recent past had been erased. He called this loss “urban dementia”. Then, on one of my panels, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a Thai landscape architect and the founder of the Porous City Network, said that people in Bangkok had become so used to floods – submerged one day, on dry land the next – that they had adapted to be “urban crocodiles”. I will be stealing both phrases.

A presidential entourage is a spectacle. It moves with a swagger that any runway model would hope to master.

Emiratis have pulled off the rare trick of being intensely modern while holding on to the things that define them. Their culture has survived the light-speed urban change because it resides not in cement but inside them. A senior diplomat told me that his late father had been a pearl diver before the UAE even existed. But as he talked about family and duty, it was evident that the values of his father’s time remained undimmed in him. One tradition that many spoke about was the majlis, a place to sit and discuss. The majlis is a tool still used by government, businesses and families. Another friend told us that he went to his parents’ majlis every week without fail, along with 30 other relatives. We were invited to two of these special gatherings – one in the desert, another around a fire. At both, people from around the world were made to feel welcome, put at ease and encouraged to share their views. It’s a remarkable social asset. I find it hard to imagine anyone being lonely here or short of contacts. Those conversations will linger with me – and not just because the fire left my clothes smelling like smoked haddock.

Image: Shutterstock

The Look / POLITICIANS’ beauty premium

Laws of attraction

A Munich-based economic research group has published a paper on a hot topic: the attractiveness of German politicians (writes Christopher Cermak). For the study, the Ifo Institute recruited 372 Americans to rank the beauty of German MPs on a scale of 1 to 10. Disappointingly, the paper doesn’t present the results in the form of a top-10 ranking (though it does reveal that the highest-rated female MP received a rating of 8.5, while the top male MP only scored 7.9). Instead, the researchers used the data to explore how much more attention people who are considered beautiful get than others who are not so blessed. The results show that attractive politicians typically receive 50 per cent more talk-show time and earn €40,000 more a year from outside gigs, while appearing 35 per cent less often in parliament.

This isn’t the only study that has looked at, well, looks. According to a 2011 paper from Finland that Ifo cites, better-looking politicians tend to receive about 20 per cent more votes than their less glamorous peers. “Attractive people often enjoy advantages in life and the same is true in politics,” says Ifo researcher Timo Wochner. The one area where there was no difference? German newspapers cited politicians equally, regardless of their looks. Chalk that up as a win for print.

Culture cuts / Page-turning thrillers

Clear and present danger

‘Paper Cage’, Tom Baragwanath. This award-winning debut from young Kiwi novelist Baragwanath captures a community in crisis. When a series of children go missing, old resentments and racial tensions divide the Maori and white inhabitants of a small town called Masterton.

‘The Blue Hour’, Paula Hawkins. Zimbabwean-born author Hawkins, best known for thriller The Girl on the Train, is back with another compelling read, this time set on a small Scottish island. The book probes questions of ambition, power, art and perception in a story that begins when a small bone at the centre of a sculpture is revealed to be human.

‘Butter’, Asako Yuzuki. Inspired by the true story of “The Konkatsu Killer”, a convicted con woman and serial killer, this Japanese psychological thriller explores the relationship between a murderous female gourmet cook and a journalist intent on cracking her case. A book that interrogates misogyny and obsession through the prism of food.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

How we live / Colombia’s Shakira statue

Parks: whenever, wherever

You might have read that a city in northern Colombia recently unveiled a 6.5-metre-high statue of Shakira (writes Christopher Lord). I can confirm that the hips don’t lie. I was just in Barranquilla, where Shakira was born, and the singer has indeed been rendered in shimmering bronze, caught barefoot, mid-belly dance, with her hands held aloft to the sky. That morning the monument drew quite a crowd of proud locals.

The statue has also attracted some bemused headlines in the global press. Not so prominent in this coverage was the fact that the erection of Shakira’s effigy caps her hometown’s extraordinary reinvention. Barranquilla was once Colombia’s principal port and an industrial hub. By the end of the 1980s, though, many of its factories had closed and the city had lost much of its greenery. It was, according to one local, “a very grey city”. In 2011 the mayor’s office launched a scheme called Todos Al Parque (“Everyone in the Park”), aiming to create small green spaces, co-designed with residents, all over town. More than 90 per cent of Barranquilla’s citizens now live within an eight-minute walk of an urban oasis.

And the work’s not yet over. Statue Shakira swivels her hips on the Gran Malecón, a vast waterfront that’s slowly being reclaimed from the worn-out factories that had dominated it. No wonder there’s a little civic pride about this new statue. As Shakira once sang, “In Barranquilla, they dance like that.”

Image: Getty Images

Words with / David Petraeus

First in command

David Petraeus is a former CIA director and was the commander of the coalition forces in Iraq. He is also the co-author of Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine. The team behind Monocle Radio’s The Foreign Desk spoke to him yesterday at the Munich Security Conference.

Are you confident that Nato will survive another Donald Trump presidency?
That’s difficult to assess. During his first term I used to say, “Read the tweets but follow the troops, the money and the policy.” The policy was largely a continuation of sensible initiatives for Nato. The US’s partnership with Poland was exceedingly strong at that time, so the answer is not as clear-cut as it might seem. Besides, there is such strong support for Nato in Congress that it’s inconceivable to me that some of the more dire scenarios might play out. But there’s certainly cause for concern.

Which book about military history would you recommend?
The book that influenced me the most during the 2007 surge in Iraq was Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command [about US Civil War general Ulysses S Grant]. It provided me with an inspiring example of what an extraordinary leader looked like on the battlefield. Grant was determined, humble, courageous – and a great horseman. Above all, he was able to do what none of his predecessors was able to do: craft the right strategy for all of the Union forces and oversee its execution.

Have you seen anything good on TV lately?
Fauda is an excellent series and sheds light on the ongoing conflict in Gaza. It’s an accurate depiction of the extraordinary skill, courage and creativity of Shin Bet, though, of course, we know that there was a significant intelligence failure preceding Hamas’s 7 October attack.

What do you like to do on a Saturday?
I like to be at home in Northern Virginia, though I’m usually travelling around the world. One of life’s greatest joys is to walk a dog – I have a corgidor, a corgi-labrador mix – while listening to a podcast or a great audiobook. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

A longer version of this interview will appear on Monocle Radio’s ‘The Foreign Desk’.

Image: Alamy

The Monocle Concierge / Your questions answered

On the waterfront

The Monocle Concierge is our purveyor of top tips and delectable recommendations for your next trip. If you’re planning to go somewhere nice and would like some advice, click here. We will answer one question a week.

Dear Concierge,

I would like your recommendations for a five-day trip to Portugal in March. I’m keen to include the Azores. I know that the country can be busy in spring, so I need your expert advice to make the most of it.


Divya Garg,

Dear Divya,

The Azores are a wonderful place but if you only have five days in the country, trying to see it all will be a bit of a stretch. The weather in the archipelago tends to be inconsistent and it’s best to take your time to explore the landscapes and cultures of a few of its islands instead of cramming too much in.

If you haven’t been to Lisbon yet, you should. You can get a good feel for the city in three days. Stroll along the Belém waterfront, which is home to some of the capital’s most iconic monuments. Start at the ancient Torre de Belém, which once protected the city from sea attacks, before making your way to the Padrão do Descobrimentos monument to view its magnificent façade. If it’s a Tuesday or Saturday, visit the feira da ladra flea market. Lisbon is also home to many new restaurants. Try lunch at Canalha, have an aperitif at Pinot and sit down for dinner at Da Noi. If you’re into castles and fairy-tale settings, it’s worth spending half a day in the nearby town of Sintra.

For your final two days in Portugal, head to Porto, which is about three hours from Lisbon by train. If you have had enough of city life, however, head to the Alentejo region, where you’ll find picturesque and quaint villages nestled among bucolic landscapes. Tua Madre in Évora combines the region’s produce with Italian flavours. The São Lourenço do Barrocal hotel is an excellent jumping-off point from which to explore the area.

Wardrobe update / Heschung Ilex shoes

Heart and sole

Now for something that will put some pep in your step. Crafted in the Alsatian commune of Steinbourg, French footwear brand Heschung’s calf-leather Ilex shoes combine an elegant, distinctive profile with the functionality of rubber soles.

Since PPL Finance, managed by Philippe Catteau, acquired a stake in the company last summer (while continuing to work closely with third-generation owner Pierre Heschung), the brand has increased its focus on local production and shops, setting up a strong foundation from which to expand. With its timeless designs and thoughtfully constructed footwear, Heschung is a heritage brand to watch this year.


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