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Conversation 27 June 2018

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Second Spanish church falls prey to well-intentioned restorer

St George effigy painted in restoration compared to Ecce Homo Monkey ChristFor 500 years, the painted wooden effigy of St George that adorns a chapel in the Spanish town of Estella has been locked in a silent struggle against his old foe, the dragon.

Today, however, the saint faces a different battle thanks to a feat of restoration that has prompted comparisons with the infamous “Ecce Homo Monkey Christ” and exasperated the mayor.

An attempt to freshen up the 16th-century polychrome statue has left St George with a rosy pink face and a bold, red-and-grey suit of armour. The restoration is believed to have been carried out by a handicrafts teacher at the request of the parish authorities of the Church of St Michael.

The mayor of Estella, which lies south-west of Pamplona in the Navarre region, is demanding to know why the council was not consulted before the work went ahead.

Koldo Leoz told the Guardian: “The parish decided on its own to take action to restore the statue and gave the job to a local handicrafts teacher. The council wasn’t told and neither was the regional government of Navarre.”

The mayor said he had been to see the statue and was not happy with the result. “It’s not been the kind of restoration that it should have been for this 16th-century statue. They’ve used plaster and the wrong kind of paint and it’s possible that the original layers of paint have been lost.”

Leoz said experts had been called in and were checking whether it would be possible to undo the restoration work and restore the statue to its previous state.

“This is an expert job it should have been done by experts,” he added.

“Today, Estella isn’t in the news because of its spectacular historical, artistic, architectural or cultural heritage,” he tweeted on Monday, above a picture from the local paper headlined: “Navarre’s own Ecce Homo.”

It was in the news, he added, “because of the unfortunate actions in regard to a 16th-century statue of St George that can be found within one of the most impressive churches in the city”.

Six years ago, a well-intentioned woman’s attempts to restore a fresco of the scourged Christ in a church in the north-eastern Spanish city of Borja went viral, with her efforts dubbed “the worst restoration in history”.


However, Cecilia Giménez soon found herself a minor celebrity after visitors flocked to the church to see her handiwork.

Florence court puts foot down over Michelangelo’s David

Civil court orders tour firm to remove images of famous nude from marketing used to sell expensive tickets to museum

His are the most famous curves in Florence and adorn everything from aprons to fridge magnets, but images of Michelangelo’s David can now only be used with official authorisation, a court in Italy has ruled.

The 16th-century marble statue is the star attraction at the Galleria dell’Accademia, which took legal action against a tour company that used an image of the Biblical nude in marketing for €45 (£40) tours of the art museum, which normally costs €8 to enter.

A civil court in Florence ordered Visit Today to remove the images because of copyright infringement, and asserted that it is the right of the institution that holds the work to authorise reproduction images only on request and with payment of an agreed fee.

The ruling said: “It does not appear that Visit Today has ever asked for or received such permission, while it is documented that they used the image and the name of David to advertise their business.”

The gallery director, Cecilie Hollberg, who took the civil action, described it as a “historic victory, which provides a precedent”.

“Now many other museums who have been victims of the plague of tickets sold at inflated prices can take this path to defeat this scam,” she said.

Hollberg was awaiting clarification from the state attorney about whether the ruling could apply to all the objects and souvenirs that portray David and were sold across the city, La Repubblica reported.

Visit Today was ordered to remove all pictures of the statue from its digital and print promotional material and will be fined €2,000 every day it fails to comply.

Other cultural institutions look likely to follow suit.

Luca Bagnoli, the president of the body responsible for Florence’s cathedral, which houses Giotto’s bell tower, said he would like to meet Hollberg.

“The problem of touting and selling tickets at a higher price by those who exploit our image also afflicts the Florentine cathedral,” he told reporters. “We would like to adopt strategies as soon as possible to enable us to effectively combat this phenomenon.”

The director of the Uffizi gallery, which brims with renaissance masterpieces, said it was preparing similar claims.

“It will be of great help in the preparation of the various legal actions that we intend to take against the many touting companies that infest us,” Eike Schmidt said.

A spokesman for Visit Today told the Guardian it was disappointed by the ruling and insisted it was not a touting firm, but rather provided guided tours with headsets and priority entrance.

“There are a lot of tourist companies that use the image, there are posters and ornaments, but unfortunately they said that we had to stop using the image,” he said. “We agreed and deleted it from our website and brochures. We thought that promoting David was good for promoting Italy. We are not the only company using David. People are selling things around the world using it.”

The mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, said: “Now the task for everyone – institutions, citizens and businesses – is to apply this ruling. Florence’s image should not be commercially exploited without limits and without rules.”

‘Cash is just grief’: why shops and bars want to make you pay by card

More and more businesses are opting not to take cash – it’s expensive, slow and makes them vulnerable to robbery. But millions of people don’t have bank accounts. Will they be cut out of this new economy?

strange thing happened to me recently. I was in a bar, but I couldn’t buy a beer. Or, to be exact, I refused to. I was in Öl at Hatch, a shipping container complex of food and drink purveyors on Oxford Road in Manchester, where the bar – to my surprise – was card-only. No cash. They had no way of taking my £10 note. It was stalemate. I had cards on me. But, in instinctive solidarity with the unbanked, those paid in cash or those who, like me (for years, a permanently skint freelancer), still budget in cash, I stood firm (and thirsty), irritated that any business would dictate how its customers pay.

I sat down to eat a curry I had bought (with old-fashioned cash) from another Hatch unit. Then, an Öl barman brought over a conciliatory glass of beer, on the house. I told him the bar’s cash-free policy is elitist; who wants to be forced to put a pint on a credit card? He talked about time saved and how not having cash on the premises was safer for the staff. We politely agreed to disagree.

Relating this later, to Öl’s co-owner David McCall, I find him irrepressibly upbeat, as if everything is going to plan: “We have probably given away 10 beers to people who didn’t have cards – and a few when Visa went down. But we would rather give you a free beer than give the bank five grand, and we want our staff to feel secure. On our second week, we were broken into [overnight] with sledgehammers. All they could take was one iPad.”

McCall’s Manchester coffee shop Takk takes cash. But opening Öl and a second Takk at the student-oriented Hatch was a chance to dispense with the £3,000- to £5,000-a-year in bank charges that the original Takk, like every business, incurs for depositing cash. “We pay above Living Wage [Foundation rates], but we want to pay our 25 staff more,” says McCall. The savings made by going card-only will help with that.

But where does this leave people without bank accounts (nearly 2 million people, according to the Financial Inclusion Commission), or those with poor credit histories who have to pay fees to use prepaid debit cards? Removing the cash option penalises them.

“We’re aware of the community issues,” says McCall. He says that Takk gives free coffee to homeless people sleeping rough – those at the sharp edge of this cashless evolution. “But when we’re picked up on the fact we could be excluding people, we have to say that’s a story for banks and government. Scandinavia is largely cashless, and there businesses and governments are having that debate.”

It is a debate that Britain may soon be having, too, as a wave of card-only food and drink venues hit UK high streets. With the exception of London’s bus network (cashless since 2014; south London’s trams follow suit in July), cash-free everyday businesses have previously been experimental one-offs. But now if you want a wrap at the Athenian in Bristol, a salad at the London chain Tossed or a coffee at Habitat cafe in Aberfeldy, Perthshire (after its local bank branch closed, Habitat’s owners were facing a 60-mile round trip to the bank) you will need to pay by card.

Standon Calling … went cashless and saw spending rise.
Standon Calling … went cashless and saw spending rise. Photograph: Alamy

It may seem a divisive move for hospitality businesses (in the US, a mixture of media criticism and customer confusion has meant that the burger chain Shake Shack has halted its cashless trials), but, says Matt Paice, owner of the London restaurant Killer Tomato, for small indies, whose cash sales run at 30% or far less, “cash is just grief”.

Card-only bill settlement is faster for diners, makes it easier to split bills and is cost-effective (no safe, no bank charges, fewer accounting errors, no cashing-up). If Killer Tomato took cash, says Paice: “On a busy night, I might have two staff counting and reconciling the float with the receipts. I’d be paying senior staff to count coins.”

Assessing which – card or cash – is cheaper for restaurants is difficult. As well as direct fees (0.49% of each card sale and 0.15% of each cash transaction, calculates the British Retail Consortium), there are indirect costs (staff pay, equipment), to consider. Everyone uses a different formula. Restaurateurs don’t agree on which offers better value.

What is clear, however, is that the new card-payment processors, such as SumUp and iZettle, make going cashless far more attractive. The established “merchant services” providers (which hire out card readers on long contracts and charge a variety of fees on different card transactions), are, says Paice, “complicated and deliberately opaque. It’s impossible to know what you’re going to be charged.”

In contrast, the new players in the “fintech” sector levy a set percentage for each transaction. No contract. No expensive card readers. “iZettle has transformed payment-processing,” says McCall, who adds that it costs a tenth of his old provider’s service.

The infrastructure is there for cashless, says Paice, as is the customer enthusiasm. Very occasionally, he has to turn someone away, but he adds: “In two years, I have had four angry customers – and I’m guessing the ones who get really angry are people operating in cash because they’re fiddling their taxes. They give me this phoney outrage about how I’m discriminating against the poor or old people. It’s cobblers. Flat-broke people are not eating in restaurants and everyone in London has a bank card: 12-year-olds, 90-year-olds. What they really mean is: ‘I don’t want to declare my income.’”

In Sweden, where 81% of all payments are digital, VAT receipts are up 30% in five years. But, says Ross Clark, author of The War Against Cash, that argument is just another bogus way in which cashless is presented – by banks and governments, but also by Mastercard, Visa and others chasing a fees bonanza – as unrelentingly positive: “It’s nonsense to say you could eliminate tax evasion by eliminating cash. Transactions are theoretically traceable. It doesn’t mean that anyone is tracing them.”

From contactless payments at self-service supermarket tills to online banking, it can seem like the digitisation of money is inevitable. But cash is proving curiously resilient. Payments UK reports that it is still used in 44% of consumer transactions and, oddly, as the Bank of England has observed, despite the rate of card transactions soaring and the value of cash payments falling by 10% annually, the volume of cash in circulation is at a record high. The number of British people who deal solely in cash – 2.7 million – is also rising. That oddity is often attributed to low interest rates, people hoarding money after the 2008 crash and a booming criminal economy. But do we prefer to use cash for minor transactions? The 2018 G4S World Cash Report found that, in Europe, the use of cash in physical point-of-sale transactions has risen from 60% to 79%. “People trust cash; it’s free to use, readily available, confidential, it can’t be hacked and it doesn’t run out of power,” said G4S’s Jesus Rosano.

From concerns about data privacy to poor broadband in rural areas, there are all sorts of reasons, argues Clark, why people in the UK want to – and should be allowed to – use cash: “One in 10 of the population have never used the internet. Only 19% of over-65s own a smartphone. This is a real demographic who find [cashless] difficult. Yet the government seems to think it acceptable to cut them out of the economy.” The former Bank of England chief cashier, Victoria Cleland, put it this way in a 2017 speech: “Cash is vital in supporting financial inclusion.”

In this push by businesses and card providers to eradicate cash, food and booze is a key battleground. Last year, in the US, Visa’s “cashless challenge” offered $10,000 each to 50 restaurants, cafes and food trucks if their owners opted to go cashless. For bigger chains, cashless looks like a windfall. It will allow them to automate sites, reduce overheads and, given how people tend to behave when using cashless systems, increase spend. At one McDonald’s branch, introducing cashless kiosks upped order values by 30%.

The bars at the Standon Calling music festival went cashless in 2013. Punters pay with preloaded, contactless wristbands. Sales went up 24% and have continued to increase. The festival’s founder, Alex Trenchard, insists this is not because of drunken ravers spending wantonly at 1am: “It eradicates cash-handling mistakes, speeds up bar operation, reduces queues and allows us to price incrementally. Better-value drinks boost spend.” Festivalgoers, he says, like the fact that, by putting a set amount on their wristband, they can cap their spending.

Does contactless make handing over cash too easy?
Does contactless make handing over cash too easy? Photograph: Getty Images/Hero Images

However, it is an absence of control in cashless transactions that bars will see as an opportunity. In a 2016 survey by the financial technology firm ClearScore, 59% of people blamed their overspending on using cards and 72% said that contactless payments make them prone to impulse purchases. For example, that round of espresso martinis bought on Saturday night, which, redefining the two-day hangover, does not appear on your banking app until Monday morning.

“The haptic, physical sensation of handling and spending a £20 note makes you ‘feel it’. With cashless, that is lost somewhat,” says Jez Groom from Cowry Consulting, which researches “behavioural economics”. “The Apple Pay ding you get from your iPhone should be replaced with a vibration calibrated to the amount spent: light for under £10; heavy and consistent for £30.”

In an industry notorious for unscrupulous deductions from staff tips, card-only payments will make that easier, too. At Killer Tomato, all the service charge (a discretionary 10%) goes to staff. Paice covers the processing fees associated with such card tips. Do not expect corporate chains to be so generous. That is, if cashless doesn’t erode tipping entirely. Habitat in Aberfeldy posted on Facebook that so many customers now use contactless cards that tips have dropped alarmingly. “Technology,” it said, “has begun to kill the tip.”

For these reasons and more, David Fox, owner of the East Street and Tampopo restaurants in London and Manchester, has no intention of going cashless. But, given Britain’s direction of travel (“no institution is defending cash”), he can already see a future gap in the market for a restaurant aimed at people who crave the authenticity of notes and coins. “Like buying vinyl,” he asks, only half-joking, “will there be a generation who still enjoy the interaction of cash?”


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