Stories that have piqued our interest, from spy balloons to rock’n’roll currency.
As airlines and hotels gear up for the holiday season, Tyler Brûlé has some ideas to up their game.
As this issue ships off to the printers, there are sunloungers waiting to be be unstacked, swimming pools to be painted, cabañas assembled and tens of thousands of beds to be made. Yes, dear reader, the scramble to find staff for the hospitality sector (airlines included) is on and it’s set to be another tough summer, with missed drink orders, luggage delivered to the wrong room and no one at the end of the phone for room service, a taxi booking or even a medical emergency. What to do? We have a few ideas.
1. Your airline needs you! Instead of bumming around for a gap year, why not see the world while getting paid? Some of the best people we know are former or serving flight attendants. Consider it a form of national service and fly the flag.
2. Age before beauty. Young, beautiful staff are a great idea when they can nail the basics of service but we’ll take a seasoned professional any day when it comes to “reading the room” and anticipating the needs of guests. Retain or bring back those 75-year-old bartenders and 80-year-old concierges.
3. Dress the part. Uniforms have a lot to do with creating a culture of pride and esprit de corps. Put doormen in PolarFleece and you get casual, “How ya’ goin’?” service. Throw on a bit of gold braiding and demand a polished shoe and the tone changes.
Monocle has a network of correspondents in cities around the world. Our brief dispatches include plans for Thai new year, a UK scheme to reward commuters and a new home for Zürich’s lawmakers.
Just add water
Bangkok is gearing up to celebrate the Thai new year, or Songkran, by shutting down streets and hosting huge water fights in April. The return of these soakings is set to make quite the impression. Let the splashing begin.
Perks of the job
The UK’s largest railway franchise, Govia Thameslink Railway, is trialling a loyalty scheme to lure commuters back to the office. Travellers will be able to collect points that can be spent on cinema tickets and coffee. Just the ticket.
House of god
Zürich’s Cantonal Council has had its prayers answered. The newly renovated Bullinger Church in Aussersihl will house the city’s parliament for four years while the old town hall undergoes much-needed updates.
One for the money...
It is beyond sane argument that ac/dc are one of the greatest and most popular rock’n’roll bands of all time – their 1980 record Back in Black is the second biggest-selling album ever and their influence is incalculable. Appropriately, the Royal Australian Mint has edged towards the recognition that ac/dc are more than due by issuing its second coin collection commemorating the group.
The six 20 cent pieces are not for circulation – and at au$110 (€70) for the set, it would be perverse to try. Each coin is wrapped in a facsimile sleeve of the album it honours, and the set is packed inside a miniature road case. ac/dc guitarist Angus Young features on most of the coins, with the late Queen Elizabeth II radiating incongruous serenity on the B-side.
It is a fine thing but if Australia were a truly civilised country, Young would long since have adorned a proper banknote – and, indeed, ac/dc’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)” would have supplanted “Advance Australia Fair” as the national anthem.
Yolk and dagger
In late 2022 the price of eggs in the US rose to record highs – they became, yes, eggspensive. This was down to supply disruptions caused by an outbreak of bird flu. Prices have risen accordingly and a few grocery retailers placed limits on purchases.
The shortage has driven some Americans to become egg traffickers (or, if you will, bootl-egg-ers). US customs officials have reported an increase in – presumably very careful – attempts to bring eggs over the border, mostly by residents of Texas and California who have been heading south; among the busier egg runs are Tijuana-San Diego and Juarez-El Paso.
It is illegal, however, to transport uncooked eggs into the US from Mexico, due to fears of importing avian diseases. Reports suggest that most miscreants have declared their cargo and submitted to its seizure, though some whose contraband was only detected via a vehicle search have been fined. There have lately been some indications that American egg prices are returning to normal – a relief for US border patrol officers, who can only eat so many omelettes.
Flogging a live corpse
There are many certainties in life and Baltazar Lemos, a Brazilian funeral director, is familiar with the most obvious. While presiding over a ceremony with just two attendees, Lemos began to wonder whether anyone would actually turn up to his own funeral. Keen to find out, he devised an elaborate plan – and announced himself dead on social media. While his family were trying to process the sudden news, Lemos discretely organised his own wake through his funeral company and tearful mourners turned out to pay their respects.
But in what could only have been a horrifying Nosferatu-esque scene for attendees, part way through the event, Lemos’s voice boomed from overhead speakers as he rose from his coffin. His chums, naturally, were less than impressed. One friend, known only as Pedro, told local media, “I like this bastard but you don’t play that kind of joke.” With death now no longer a guarantee for Lemos’s guests, we’re sure that this year’s tax bill will provide some welcome certainty.
In February the Pentagon shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon in US airspace. China is no stranger to “Trojan horse” technology (its Ministry of State Security can embed surveillance microchips in light bulbs, fridges and even hot tubs) but if the balloon really was used for nefarious means, it wouldn’t be the first time that such an endeavour has gone wrong. In 2012 a former prime-ministerial aide admitted that the UK was behind a plastic rock fitted with a covert transmitter that was discovered in Moscow in 2006, while Russia has been caught handing visiting dignitaries “eavesdropping” phone chargers. It’s a reminder that simple objects might not be as they seem. We advise keeping a beady eye – but not too obviously.
Barcelona-based writer Javier Cercas has captivated readers across Europe with his fictional takes on historical events. He’s also a respected cultural and political commentator. This year, French president Emmanuel Macron – an admirer of Cercas’s work – invited the writer to the Elysée Palace to have a conversation about the problems currently facing the country and continent. The two spoke about the rise of populism, the war in Ukraine and the future of the EU. Here, Cercas tells monocle why literature still matters, the scribblers he takes inspiration from and his new book of essays, No callar.
This month is our retail special, so please tell us: which is your favourite bookshop?
It would have to be La Central in Mallorca.
Where do you get your news?
I read too many newspapers. In terms of Spanish-language publications, I read El País and La Vanguardia. I also read Le Monde, and, in Italy, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera.
Who would you say are some of your favourite writers?
The way I see it, you cannot be a writer if you’re not a reader. I began reading Kafka aged 15 and I’m still reading him now. The American postmodern era was also very important to me. I was living in the States for some years and the American novelist Robert Coover caught my eye there. Oh, and Belarusian writer Svetlana Aleksiévich’s novel El fin del “Homo sovieticus” is one of the best books of this century for me. The great revolution of our time is the revolution of women.
“You cannot be a writer if you’re not a reader. I began reading Kafka at 15. I’m still reading him”
What are you working on?
My book of essays entitled No callar has just been published in Spain and Italy. It contains texts, articles, essays, chronicles and speeches that I’ve published during the last 20 years about literature, politics, history, Europe and my own biography. It’s more than 700 pages and contains different books within books.
You’ve written both fiction and political non-fiction in your career. Do you think it is possible for the two to mix?
Most writers hold back from expressing political views because they’ll lose readers, but I can’t avoid it in my own work – that’s my personality. My son always tells me that it’s bad for my career, but I am who I am.
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Illustrator: Ryan Gillett. images: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Australian Government