The opener - Issue 113 - Magazine | Monocle

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Hot shorts: Dispatches from the road


Full Marx
Vienna’s same-sex-couple pedestrian signals in 2015 may have fallen foul of right-wing protest but that hasn’t deterred the town of Trier in western Germany from toying with its lights to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. As long as the German philosopher’s red tendencies don’t cause any traffic blockades this LED revolution should be a capital idea.

Bento promo
Japan’s regional governments have found a delectable way of promoting their farm produce: outrageous bento. Tokyo-based Star Festival created the extravagant options that include a ¥270,000 (€2,100) cow-shaped box meal of cooked Wagyu cuts from Tottori prefecture and a ¥15,000 (€120) quintuple-decker box of 100 miniature rice balls and toppings to advertise a rice variety grown only in Aomori prefecture. Star Festival doesn’t disclose sales figures for its popular e-commerce bento service Gochikuru but the company’s latest idea is well worth chewing over.

Going ape
During a recent sit-down with Jane Goodall, the eminent primatologist and anthropologist shared a few unanticipated stories about chimpanzee sex. The mating record, which Goodall observed in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, involved one female chimp copulating more than 70 times in a day with a dozen different partners. “That Fifi was a real sex bomb,” said Goodall. For more listen to The Big Interview on

Opinions: Going off the record and getting touchy


For the record

The average millennial’s archive is packed with recordings of live experiences – but to what end?

What do ethereal icon Kate Bush, stand-up comic Chris Rock and the late Prince have in common? (No, this isn’t a set-up for some tasteless joke.) At some point they have all begged their fans before gigs not to record performances. From the artists’ perspective it makes sense: it must be difficult to strike a rapport with an audience if you are blinded by a sea of twinkling smartphones – and that’s before we consider that artists lose live viewers for every joke or song that gets uploaded to YouTube.

At a recent gig in London, however, another question came to mind. Although I was only 10 people from the stage, there was rarely a moment during the performance when I had a clear view of the artist, as someone in front of me always had a phone held above their head. This colossal lack of consideration for others aside, what are people doing with these videos after the show?

We are often told that millennials are more invested in experiences than things. But, arguably, it is the recording of experiences that has become more vital. Collectors – whether of watches or wine – are often people whose passion for objects is outweighed by their passion for collecting. The filming of concerts is the new stashing of ticket stubs – only far more annoying for the people standing behind.


Sense and sensitivity

Where is the line between being perceptive of problems and stifling literature?

Sensitivity readers are proofreaders who check manuscripts’ awareness of their portrayal of non-white people, lgbt issues and religious intolerance. They prevent impressionable souls like you and me from reading a book and thinking that slavery should be reintroduced or that people in wheelchairs should, because they’re closer to the ground, be conscripted for a life of litter-picking. Because you were wavering for a minute there, weren’t you? But luckily I flagged up that those things aren’t kosher (other faith-based dining analogies are available).

Publishers so cower at the thought that a book might cause offence that they often won’t publish – or will but with altered plots, characters and language. One sensitivity reader has become something of a poster girl for her trade after appearing in a New York Times article about it, the headline of which asked if her job was akin to censorship. She later took to the internet to say that – guess what? – the piece was insensitive.

The New York Times was asking the right question. The cruel-hearted don’t write 400-page novels to showcase their reactionary aspirations: they go online and have a go at women newsreaders (for some reason). I’m all for teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye in schools and I loved arguing the toss about Othello and Shylock for the same reason; these are the things that awake a love of the power of literature over simply liking stories. They are powerful arguments against the censorship of “sensitivity”. I’m with Voltaire for defending to the death your right to say what he didn’t like.

March of the provinces

by Saul Taylor

Cannes in March: where the sun is warm, the breeze sings gently through the rigging of sailboats and 26,000 delegates from 100 countries descend upon Mipim, “the world’s property market”. Traditionally a lash-up for the global real-estate elite, the four-day fair has taken a serious tone of late as wobbly global economies and unpredictable politicians rock the yacht. Yet all is not lost aboard the SS Landlord.

Out came the navy suits as property developers, builders, civil servants, urbanists, architects and designers attempted to woo 5,400 investors at the Palais des Festivals. After comparing watches over handshakes and hors d’oeuvres they boarded their boats or dove into bars to lubricate their quill fingers.

Beyond the conventional sight of middle-aged Germans finishing multimillion-euro contracts in the grey space between hospitality suites and the “First Timers HQ” (a holding pen of nervous fair virgins), 2018 was notable for how determined regional and city governments were to attract development.

As nations dither it seems mayors have taken it upon themselves to rebuild the engine of growth with streamlined technology, people power and a smaller exhaust. Representatives from far and wide came clutching all manner of marketing miscellany. Lyon brought The Only: Business and Good News magazine and generous quaffs of Rhône Valley white; Barcelona a bullish tone and an innovative flip-book. Tote bags from across the world were well received.

As ties and blouses loosened in the setting sun over slurred discussion about the merits of PropTech, we reflected: will interesting second-tier cities, small regional enclaves and smart local developers help save capitals by offering a realistic, cosmopolitan alternative to overdeveloped, overpopulated urban centres?

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