Observations. People and places. / Global
Welcome to our world
We know our readers venture far and wide, and once you arrive at your destination it’s often the first-hand local knowledge that’s most interesting – people who know the stories behind the cities. So relax and let us tell you what we know of where you go.
All aboard in Austin
Goldie gets skittish going under bridges. It’s the noise that does it. To give her some credit, she is only two years old. This also happens to be her first season as a fully fledged Austin paddleboarder – not bad for a golden labrador.
To be accurate, Goldie isn’t achieving the unachievable and holding a paddle between her paws. Instead, she is taking up a large chunk of a board that she’s sharing with owner Aaron Villalon, carefully balancing as she soaks in the rays and checks out some of the canine eye-candy nearby. This is what the Texan capital looks like on summer weekends as people coast down Lady Bird Lake (referred to by everyone as Town Lake) – a dammed part of the Colorado River – atop waterborne vessels. Everywhere you look there are dogs in different shapes and sizes and different states of dress or undress (depending on whether they’re wearing lifejackets that seem to be almost de rigueur).
Villalon is on the water with his wife Briana, who has seven-year-old retriever Molly on her board, and brother Michael (who, not to be outdone, is with his five-year-old rottweiler Nala). The lake offers respite from the soaring temperatures, leisurely exercise and the chance to gaze up at some of the mega-homes that line parts of the water. Further away, people have parked their kayaks and paddleboards under a bridge and are swigging cold beers; others are chatting with strangers as they pass each other in opposite directions.
“Austin is a very outdoor community and a lot of dog lovers live here,” says Villalon. “You can take your dogs to restaurant patios and then out to the water. People just want to spend time with them.” And the pooches – except one labrador having a wobbly moment on board – seem happy to reciprocate.
ABOUT: Americas editor at large Ed Stocker has a thing for cocker spaniels, having grown up with a black-white-and-tan named Zara.
Driving me crazy
Berlin’s embattled streets
Sip your morning coffee on any street corner in Berlin and you’ll soon enjoy a vivid scene. As delivery lorries double-park next to other vehicles and cars get stuck at the crossroads, impatient cyclists swerve perilously around them. Horns honk, bike bells ring and, occasionally, an angry cry pierces the air: “Arschloooch!” You have witnessed a daily battle in Berlin’s culture wars.
Germany is, famously, the pinnacle of consensus, the home of political compromise. Abortion isn’t legal but it won’t be punished. Childcare is subsidised but stay-at-home mothers are rewarded. This habit may be why, for a short blissful period, the identity politics that set other western countries aflame seemed to bypass Germany. We should have known better. The Kulturkampf, or “culture struggle” (as Otto Bismarck’s war against the church’s intervention in education came to be known) is, after all, a German invention.
Having returned to its place of origin, the Kulturkampf picked as its battleground that most German of preoccupations: personal transport. Let others fight over cosmopolitanism versus nationalism, moderation versus extremism – Berliners are having it out over cars versus bikes. The clash lacks none of the juicy details of its bigger siblings: powerful financial interests, cynical politicians and profanity-laden social-media brawls. And, of course, all sides feel victimised.
In a city of wide streets and low levels of car ownership, how could this happen? It all started in 2016 when a group of cycling activists proposed a referendum that would enshrine state-wide spending on cycling infrastructure into law. So many people signed their petition that Berlin’s government negotiated with the activists to make the proposals law without even putting them to a popular vote. Last year, the Senate presented a first draft for its “traffic revolution”. This summer, Berlin’s parliament passed Germany’s first mobility law – against the opposition of the centre-right CDU, liberal FDP and far-right AfD.
Tempers have been running high. Drivers, feeling embattled by looming inner-city bans on diesel engines, complained that nobody had their interests at heart. Berlin’s local CDU, having been voted out of government, attacked the Senate for its green politics. “This ‘mobility law’ is a cyclists’ law,” CDU MP Oliver Friederici wrote in Der Tagesspiegel, calling the proposals “against the car”. The AfD, of course, went even further. The far-right party wrote to its members that “the so-called ‘mobility law’ is just another means to act out the Greens’, Left’s and SPD’s hatred of cars.”
The automotive industry is, of course, one of Germany’s most powerful. De-prioritising the car is therefore politically fraught. The car owners’ club Adac criticised the law as ideological. And it remains to be seen how federal government officials will respond should their black Audis get stuck in newly speed-limited streets.
Car-driving newspaper columnists have found fodder for outrage in aggressive cyclists who disregard the rules. (Of course, there’s a German word for that: Kampfradler.) To counter those accusations, cyclists use dash cams on their handlebars to record dangerous driving and show who’s the real victim here.
The local Der Tagesspiegel newspaper, meanwhile, made a valiant attempt to turn the issue into a discussion on traffic safety as a whole. The paper asked for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to send in photos of dangerous spots – yet was flooded with pictures of cycle lanes ending in parking lots, construction sites and various other barriers. Possibly worried about looking partisan or unoriginal, the newspaper settled on introducing a third front in this particular Kulturkampf: pedestrians who are being squeezed out of the pavements by restaurant terraces and rental scooters. That should provide ammunition until at least 2020.
ABOUT: Kati Krause is Monocle’s Berlin correspondent and a firm believer in the spatial separation of transport tribes.
1. €100m investment into cycling infrastructure between 2018 and 2019.
2. 100km of lanes and 100,000 new parking spaces for bikes by 2025.
3. Wheelchair-accessible public transport by 2022.
4. Integration of public transport, shared cars and bikes into one pricing system: made law in 2019.
US Forest Service’s cultural icon
A familiar face peers, steely eyed, out from the rack of T-shirts arrayed outside LA’s Y Que Trading Post, a trinket shop that’s been a fixture in the city since the late 1980s.
Among the eclectic collection of tees is a rendering of one of the most recognisable avatars in the western US: Smokey Bear, a cartoon character of an American black bear that has been the mascot of the US Forest Service since 1944. Staring straight ahead, his ranger’s cap pulled low, Smokey is printed on a T-shirt that reads “Smokey Says: Resist” – a reference to the catchphrase of anti-Trump movements.
Smokey’s foray into politics was conceived by three Pittsburgh-based T-shirt designers in 2017 – and marks the latest unofficial iteration of the Smokey Bear franchise, which has seeped into the cultural consciousness far beyond the character’s original remit to warn against the dangers of wildfires. The campaign debuted in 1944 to reference the plight of a bear cub found scorched by a wildfire, and remains the longest-running public service advertising campaign in the US.
Songs have been written for Smokey: “People stop and pay attention when he tells them to beware / Because everybody knows that he’s the fire-preventin’ bear,” Johnny Jones and the Peter Pan Rangers cheerfully crooned in 1955; cartoons have been created; and he has been printed on billboards, notebooks and lunchboxes. There is even a park: the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, was inaugurated in 1976 upon the death of the black bear who inspired the character. The bear’s body was flown to the site and buried there.
Yet while Smokey has been venturing into political and cultural matters, there’s a renewed need for his original mission in California this year. The wildfires were declared the largest on record earlier this summer: could it be time for Smokey Bear to wake up from his nostalgia-tinged slumber?
ABOUT: After looking into Smokey Bear’s history, Toronto bureau chief Tomos Lewis has cut down on his cigarette habit: lets’ hope it doesn’t affect his dulcet tones on Monocle 24.
Brazil’s beach snacks are hot stuff
Brazil and the beach. Like chips and ketchup, they just go together. When it comes to beach culture the Brazilians are true professionals, sauntering down in year-round sunshine with bikini, volleyball and sarong at the ready. Which is why it’s surprising that as far as seaside snacks are concerned, Brazil has settled for such impractical fare. Forget a neatly wrapped ice-lolly on a wooden stick: in Brazil, smouldering grilled cheese cooked on a portable barbecue and served on sharp skewers is the order of the day. Then there’s piping hot corn-on-the-cob that’s impossible to hold and drinks so potent you can barely make it out of the water standing.
Delve into the country’s beach-food culture and you’ll find a string of perplexing inventions, many of which date back decades and often divide opinion. For starters, there’s the pastel. (It’s said that Japanese immigrants brought it to Brazil at the turn of the last century.) This rectangular pastry is just the right size to be easily held in a hand. But then come the fillings: shredded chicken and cheese, spicy minced beef and the ultimate “pizza” flavour – a mix of gooey mozzarella, tomato and basil. All of the above are deep fried in vegetable oil and covered in chilli sauce that drips down your bathing suit. Try swimming after two of these.
For mains, why not move on to kebabs? Yes, there’s nothing better in the midday humidity of Rio de Janeiro’s tropical climate than an espetinho, or “little skewer”. These come in several varieties but the posher (or warier) eaters never opt for the seafood option. “You don’t know how long it’s been in the sun,” they’ll warn. Instead, they’ll happily go for salty white cheese. The mini portable grill the skewers are cooked on is perhaps the most entertaining part of the experience. Beach vendors swing the espetinhos round and round in a circular motion to cook – or burn – what’s on the sticks, ensuring all sides are thoroughly charred, with a concentration and dedication almost verging on theatre. When they’re finished, customers pop their pointed sticks in the sand (often dangerously close to where barefoot children play football).
Still peckish? Then you’ll probably want Biscoito Globo. This baked crisp, made from manioc (yucca) starch, first came on the scene 50 years ago. Its crumbly texture means post-bite residue inevitably sticks to suncreamed skin.
Onto dessert: condensed-milk balls, or brigadeiros, are seen as a sensible sweet treat, despite the fact these sticky spheres are delivered to the eater after exchanging hands up and down the shoreline in 35c heat. The candied truffle came about in 1945 during a political campaign by a candidate who held the military rank of brigadier (or brigadeiro in Portuguese). Women were among his most loyal voters so they attempted to promote the brigadeiro’s message by organising fundraisers and winning over hearts with sugar.
And to wash it all down? An alcoholic coconut milk-based cocktail, the batida. Given coconut’s natural rehydrating properties, this drink may seem a reasonable option for beach refreshment. But logistics spoil it all: how do you rest the coconut? Most decide to guzzle down the contents all at once to avoid the nut rolling onto dry towels. Savvier beach-goers return to the vendor to chop it in half so they can scoop out the sweet coconut flesh. All end up feeling the effects of the cachaça sooner than the juice’s – and most leave wondering if a run-of-the-mill ice cream cone wouldn’t have been a better option after all.
Other impractical beach snacks:
1. Fish & chips, England: Battered cod wrapped in newspaper and which biodegradable cutlery cannot cut into.
2. Torta frita, Uruguay: Circles of deep-fried flour the size of frisbees and covered in sticky sugar.
3. Jerk chicken, Jamaica: Spicy thighs and wings almost as hot as the temperature outside.
4. Shave Ice, Hawaii: Condensed milk, syrup and toppings that slide off crushed ice.
5. Krofne, Croatia: Cream, jam and Nutella-filled doughnuts that break into a gooey mess.
ABOUT: Lucinda Elliott writes about Latin American politics and business for monocle from Brazil – but when she’s off duty on the beach, she’s partial to a batida or two.
Keep you posted
We’ve all done it: visiting a museum, looking enviously at that Poussin or Gurksy and fantasising about how it would look above the mantelpiece. Yet given few pockets run so deep, may we suggest you consider a different form of art souvenir? Collecting stamps. Behind each one of these tiny canvasses is often a talented artist, commissioned by the government to capture a place and its culture. And if that’s not art – what is? Best of all, these pieces will cost you less than a coffee. Here’s our pick of the stamps hitting envelopes this year: if you pass through their issuing country, you’d better stick them on your art shopping lists – or at least a postcard.
Artist: David Plunkert
Hammer price: $0.50
The bald heads on this series were designed to celebrate Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and are wonderfully retro-futuristic. Plunkert’s work is also suitably patriotic in its choice of palette.
Country: Faroe Islands
Artist: Martin Mörck
Hammer price: DKK10-DKK44
The Norwegian artist’s style recalls Gustave Doré’s engravings of Dante’s Inferno. The scene, of a bygone form of hunting called fowling, is as manic as hell: a figure descends into the chaotic fray of birds and a boat bashes against the waves. Monocle’s friends will recall that Mörck used to illustrate the magazine’s old Style Leader column.
Artist: Jo Muré
Hammer price: au$1
This four-stamp series delivers a healthy dose of nostalgia. It commemorates Australia’s once-booming jam industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The old-world labels depict jars from the likes of Tasmanian producer Peacock’s and ooze a delightful vintage familiarity.
Artist: Stéphanie Ghinéa
Hammer price: €1.20
Own your first (almost) Miró. Andorra has ties to Catalonia and this stamp honours the 125th anniversary of the Barcelonian artist’s birth. Ghinéa’s stamp reproduces a 1980 lithograph that Mirò designed to mark the fourth centenary of Casa de la Vall – the HQ of Andorra’s General Council.
Artist: Ella Clausen
Hammer price: DKK9
The work of Danish artist and ceramicist Bjørn Wiinblad is best described as Klimt meets Hokusai, with a hint of commedia dell’arte. Clausen’s series commemorates the 100th anniversary of his birth by reviving some of his ornate designs with a modern twist.
Artist: Michael Turner
Hammer price: £1.40
The UK’s Royal Air Force clocked up 100 years in 2018 so illustrator Turner was called on to pay tribute to the Red Arrows, the RAF’s pageant squadron.
Artists: Andrew Perro, Dave Murray
Hammer price: CAN$8.50 (booklet)
You don’t always need a momentous occasion to issue a stamp, sometimes it’s simply a chance to say thanks. This year Canada pays tribute to the bee with an art deco aesthetic that feels futuristic.
Artist: Max Henschel
Hammer price: CHF1
Only Switzerland could issue a stamp commemorating a national insurance fund and make it look elegant. For 100 years the Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund has been ensuring safety in industrial workplaces. Henschel brings the scene to life in just four colours, echoing the Swiss flag.
ABOUT: Melkon Charchoglyan is a writer on Monocle’s books team. His grandfather’s collection has stamps from all over the world.
Good clean fun
Finland's rug-cleaning ritual
For Finns, summer holidays are about work. I don’t mean checking emails or taking calls. I mean physical labour. When we escape the city and head to our lakeside cottages, we tend to vegetables and chop wood. We don’t endure these activities; they are what make holidays fun. And one chore above all tops the list of pastimes: rug washing.
For a tell-tale sign of summer’s arrival, look out for Finns loading their rugs into their cars and driving to the nearest mattolaituri, a dedicated rug-washing pier. Such is the popularity of this activity that there are 29 such piers around the Helsinki metropolitan area.
The city’s most frequented is on the waterfront near Kaivopuisto park: here, Tuomas Koivunen and Sissi Penttilä are laying their rugs onto the pier’s wooden boards. They are in high spirits and dressed for the occasion: shorts and vests preferred, bathers optional. They are also carrying the essential tools needed for effective washing.
First, Penttilä pulls out a bar of Mäntysuopa soap and takes a long sniff. The pungent smell is for Finns an instant reminder of summer. Only this kind of environmentally friendly soap, and no other, can and should be used for rug washing. Its pine fragrance lingers on textiles for weeks to come – and will long remind Koivunen and Penttilä of this sunny day at the pier.
Next, she grabs a bucket, fills it with water from the Baltic Sea and wields a juuriharja, a special scrubbing brush. A bucketful of seawater flies onto the rug and Penttilä sets about scrubbing. A large yacht slides by and the bikini-clad women on its deck pull out their phones. “Look at that lovely scene,” they say as they snap away at the rug-washing pair. Thumbs up are exchanged.
When all is done, the rugs are hung to dry on dedicated racks. After a hard day’s work, the couple reward themselves with a drink at the bar next to the pier. This one – called Mattolaituri in honour of the rug-washing spot it overlooks – also happens to be one of the trendiest in Helsinki. A DJ is playing some house music and the bar is sponsored by a famous champagne brand.
When Koivunen and Penttilä take a seat on the terrace with bucket, soap and scrubbing brush still in hand, no one bats an eyelid. They’re probably all too taken by the lovely smell of pine.
ABOUT: Petri Burtsov is Monocle’s Helsinki correspondent. He washes his rugs every summer – as long as there’s a bar next door.
Floats your boat
London’s shipshape shop
“A woman came in one day for rope. She wanted 15 metres of 10mm,” says Alasdair Flint, the softly spoken proprietor of London’s oldest ship’s chandler. “We asked what for and she went, ‘oh, I teach bondage down the road’,” he says, stifling a giggle. “We’re in Soho after all.”
More precisely, we’re standing in a dusty under-street rope room, surrounded by the amount of paraphernalia you’d expect a company that’s traded for 500 years to have amassed. There are vast spools, manila hemp and coconut husk-rope, an antique guillotine (handle missing), anchors, reels, ratchet straps and slings – and it’s just one of five floors of inventory within the 1870s building.
It’s a scene of disarray but that’s just what Flint, an avid sailor, set-builder by trade and owner of a theatre-supply firm, found when he first bobbed into the Arthur Beale shop as a customer in 2014. “The previous owner was elderly and unwell,” he says, now twiddling a length of soft pink rope that he introduced for Valentine’s Day 2018. The business was in rough waters. “They’d contacted the liquidators. I ended up having to take it over in two weeks. I decided to do it and see what happened.”
In the 18th century Arthur Beale was a flax dealer that then supplied explorers – Ernest Shackleton among them – and climbers making moves on Everest and the Matterhorn. While smaller today, the company has survived thanks to its bricks-and-mortar berth, offering personal service and full-ship fit-outs that would involve innumerable individual purchases if undertaken online. It also has sidelines in supplying the theatre trade, fashion students and courting clients from Louis Vuitton (for whom they made a mast) to interior-design firms.
Many are drawn in by Flint’s imaginative window displays, which showcase the new lines he’s added since taking the helm – from Welsh-wool jumpers to British-made canvas smocks. Despite the unlikeliness of the shop’s survival, Flint is under no illusions about the choppy waters ahead. “It’s the same all over London, the prices have pushed people out,” says Flint as he points across the road to a vast orange edifice that houses a Google office and burger chain. “There used to be loads of hardware shops here and you could buy any hinge or fitting,” says Flint bluntly. “I didn’t do this for the money but having said that, there’s huge potential in the brand.”
ABOUT: Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s executive editor – and runs a tight ship.
That new-car smell
Germany rubs our noses in it
“Pacific Mood was designed for the cabriolet,” says Sabine Engelhardt. “I wanted to capture the sense of driving up the coast in Santa Monica – sun, salt and the taste of it on your lips.”
Eight years ago, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, tasked Engelhardt with designing scents that could be diffused through the marque’s high-end S-Class cars. Working with perfume-maker Symrise, she created four smells – Freeside Mood, Nightlife Mood, Sports Mood and Downtown Mood – that were delivered to buyers in 2013. Now all S-Class cars can be bought with a built-in diffuser and bottle of fragrance.
Engelhardt isn’t a typical perfume-industry person – she trained as a librarian and still has a bookish demeanour – but get her talking about fragrances and she sparkles. “For Downtown Mood, I said to the perfumers: ‘Imagine New York under a blue sky; all the people from all over the world coming out of skyscrapers at lunchtime. We want that energy’,” she says, sitting in her office in the gritty Berlin district of Alt-Moabit (she found she couldn’t be creative in Stuttgart, where Daimler is headquartered).
Each fragrance requires a deft understanding of the car and its target consumer. The Maybach, for instance, is the carmaker’s most luxurious model and has a fragrance that’s heavy in oud; AMG, the sportiest sub-brand, got its own spicy ginger scent this year. As Engelhardt puts it, “I’m not just adding smell to the car – that’s the pine tree hanging from the mirror. I have to think of the whole story.”
ABOUT: Matt Alagiah is Monocle’s executive editor and is petitioning Transport for London to introduce some better scents for the Tube.
Asian flyers’ message in a bottle
Single-use plastic bottles and containers have become enemy number one in the West only quite recently. Yet in Asia, carrying reusable flasks of water (always warm and often flavoured with some variety of loose-leaf tea) has long been commonplace. People’s entrenched propensity to save a penny pre-dates environmental concerns – and is the reason why most people won’t buy pre-packaged beverages even in the bottled water’s easiest marketplace: the airport.
Walk through security at Hong Kong International Airport and you’ll see queues quickly re-forming around the terminals’ public water fountains. Bottled-water companies loathe to give up on their lucrative air-side money spinners may need to rethink their approach in Asian travel hotspots – and pivot into the water-dispensing business instead. An Evian water fountain could turn the tap on a plentiful and sustainable revenue source.
ABOUT: Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief James Chambers can often be found at the airport carrying his reusable water bottle of choice: a collapsible Hydrapak.
UK's tunnel of love
Londoners are in for a treat. A new railway under their city is due to open at the end of the year but, despite nearly a decade of construction, few people really know much about the £15bn Crossrail – which will be known as the Elizabeth Line. It will connect Reading in the west with Shenfield in Essex 92km away via a 21km tunnel under London, with branches to Heathrow and Abbey Wood.
Let’s start our journey at Paddington, the most western of the 10 new underground stations built for the line. Look up as you go down the escalator and you will see clouds through the glass roof. But hold on a second: these are in fact part of “A Cloud Index”, an artificial cloudscape featured on the 180 glass panels making up the station’s roof. Created by American artist Spencer Finch, they are meant as a trompe l’oeil – as they will meld with the real clouds far above. Finch described it as an artwork that will “exist as an homage to the British obsession with categorising the most fugitive of natural phenomena.” After all, it was an Englishman, Luke Howard, who first created a nomenclature for clouds in the early 19th century.
As our journey continues, we get an idea of the scale of the new railway. Many Londoners think Crossrail is just another cramped Tube. But relieving congestion was the reason for Crossrail’s creation and its designers were determined not to make the same mistakes as with the Victoria line, completed only 50 years ago but now so packed that it will not even connect with Crossrail.
As we reach the platforms, their size makes quite the impression. They are more than 200 metres long, double that of any Tube station. The tunnels are also double the size – big enough to take full-size trains. A glass barrier safeguards access to the tracks. Stretching right up to the roof, the transparent wall prevents people from stumbling onto the railway and the 27 sets of doors only open in sync with those on the train. Each nine-car train is 200 metres long and features a continuous corridor to ensure 1,500 passengers can spread out. It whizzes by at speeds of up to 96.5kmph through the tunnels to cover the distance between Heathrow and Farringdon, in the heart of London, in 39 minutes.
All other central London Crossrail stations are enormous and have multiple exits, which increases their catchment area. Every one has been designed with no hard edges and each is filled with art themed to the station’s location, such as diamond-inspired wall panels for Farringdon – the heart of the jewellery quarter. Corridors are clutter-free with no hanging signs or loudspeakers and far higher than those busy little tunnels linking existing Tube lines. Outside, all 30 stations served by Crossrail have been refurbished and made accessible, and they will be branded with the purple chosen to represent the Elizabeth Line.
Londoners will have to wait until December 2019 to enjoy the full service along all branches. But the party should begin this year when the tunnels of the line’s three central tracts (between Heathrow and Paddington, Paddington and Abbey Wood, and Liverpool Street and Shenfield) will launch. It may not be the full deal – but it’ll still be quite the ride.
ABOUT: Christian Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. His book "The Story of Crossrail" will be published in November.
The Voice Zürich
No robots permitted
“Passengers Sumpton and Kibreb are requested to proceed to gate A83,” says Manuel Persico, leaning into the microphone. Seconds later his voice can be heard across Zürich Airport. While most airports depend on robotic-sounding pre-recorded messages, in Zürich all announcements are made – almost – in real time by a group of trained professionals. Staff get up to 10 tries so they can correct mistakes – which means a slight delay before they are released.
If Persico’s not in the recording booth of the control tower, he helps check in and board passengers for Star Alliance members. He’s just returned from a sojourn in London and this is only his second day as an airport announcer.
The Voice (not the television singing show of the same name) is a group of 35 people, selected by duty manager Béatrice Nicolai, who’s led the programme since 1998. The team is in charge of all airport announcements. “Applicants have to speak German, English and French – and a soft accent can be quite charming,” says Nicolai.
Claudia Seitz, who started her career as a maître de cabine, has been with the Voice for a decade and today she’s in the tower training Persico. “When I first started out, Swiss Airlines still gave the cabin crew voice training. These days we train on the job,” she says, glancing at Persico, whose eyes are glued to four computer screens to keep track of delayed flights, lost items and missing passengers.
“It’s a welcome change from being around passengers all day,” says Persico, who’s working the 05.45 to 14.30 shift. He definitely has the voice for it; it didn’t take long for Nicolai to notice that. “I’m a singer so it’s a good fit,” he says in his soothing baritone. When he’s not at the airport, he’s in the studio recording songs and has just launched his debut album. Delivering the right announcement can sometimes be as challenging as hitting a tricky note. “The hardest part is pronouncing passengers’ names, particularly Polish names that end in ‘czy’.”
As Persico steps out of the booth, Denise Andermatt-Brummer takes his place. For her, the Voice makes for a break from her client-facing job. It’s an oasis of quiet, the one time when she doesn’t have to smile and can rest her feet.
Announcements usually come in clusters depending on the time of day – or year. During this summer’s heatwave there were many delays but things have calmed down now. When it’s a full moon, lost property announcements tend to peak. “That’s when passengers are at their most forgetful,” says Seitz. Yet even when the moon is a waning slither, plenty of things get left behind: such as Mr Lange’s credit card at chocolatier Läderach. Within seconds of receiving the message, Andermatt-Brummer has broadcast the call for Mr Lange. “We just have to make sure we’re not making too many announcements as we’re now a silent airport.” This means that announcements have been cut down to increase passengers’ comfort. “We’ll only issue a last call when more than 15 people are missing 15 minutes before take-off,” she says.
Nicolai, required back at “the front”, bids goodbye to her Voice staff. “I recently received an email from a passenger complimenting one of my team members on their sexy voice,” she says. “That’s when you realise just how much attention is paid to these announcements.”
ABOUT: Marie-Sophie Schwarzer recently relocated to Monocle’s Zürich HQ so the trip to the airport was an easy one. She’d spent countless hours at Zürich Airport over the years but never paid quite this much attention to the announcements.
Change of scene
Italy swaps mugshots for headshots
In Tuscany’s hilltop town of Volterra, a 600-year-old fortress has been converted into a penitentiary. The Fortezza Medicea di Volterra houses men convicted of the worst crimes – and it’s also home to the only permanent prison theatre programme in Italy. As the season opens inside the Fortezza, the ground floor’s gates are ajar allowing the 89 actors (of the prison’s 157 inmates) to circulate in the makeshift backstage.
This year, Armando Punzo is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the theatre company he founded here. The award-winning director, who works seven days a week within these walls, has written an original work, Beatitudo (Joy), in honour of the occasion. Prisoners who have served at least half of their sentence are permitted a few weeks a year outside prison walls, and those actors will perform around Italy in the autumn.
“Every actor makes connections between the characters and his own life,” says Fabio Valentino, a Naples-born bookworm in the programme. “With Shakespeare you understand how you could transform into both the good and the evil characters equally.” Inmate Nicola Esposito agrees: “When I’m performing, I’m the person I decide to be. I forget who I’ve been in the past.”
The prison has become calmer thanks to the theatre workshops. “Armando gets our respect because he offers his respect to all of us,” says Giacomo Silvano, a silver-haired inmate. “He managed to make the prison not be a prison.”
Punzo’s programme has also opened this impenetrable institution to the city: around 300 visitors are expected for each of the sold-out play’s four nights before it goes on tour. Their presence is a boost for the inmates. “It feels like a thousand people are applauding you – how can you not feel moved?” says Rosario Campana, a Caserta native. “This is more than just a pastime,” says Tony Waychey, a Nigerian who learned Italian in prison. “When I get out in five years I hope to act as my career.”
It’s a hope founded in precedent. Aniello Arena, the prison’s most famous alumnus, got his break when director Matteo Garrone saw him in one of these plays and cast him as the lead in his 2012 film Reality – which went on to win the Grand Prix at Cannes that year.
“Theatre allows you to distance yourself from who you are,” says Gaetano Spera, who transferred from a prison near Lecce to take part in the programme. “It allows you to see that you can be so much more than you imagined.”
ABOUT: Laura Rysman is the central Italy correspondent for Monocle and splits her time between Lucca and Milan.
What to do in a terrorist attack
The chance of anybody ever requiring the following advice is remote. The disproportion between media fascination with terrorism and its frequency is colossal: in 2017, about 26,400 people were killed worldwide in 10,900 terrorist incidents (of those fatalities, just over 8,000 were the perpetrators). It sounds – and is – a lot: certainly far too many lives lost to ideological mania. Yet terrorism remains one of the least likely risks run by any traveller. Nevertheless, it’s better to be prepared: and a person’s immediate response can make all the difference. Three experts share their opinions.
Chris Phillips, managing director, IPPSO
Be aware of your surroundings
It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your immediate environment. Being alert to noises is especially important. Wherever possible, it’s useful to have some kind of plan – an idea in your head of what you would do if something happened.
Run at a right-angle
There are some places that are less likely to be the target of vehicle attacks. In major cities, lots of important sites now mitigate against threats from hostile vehicles. But if it does happen, remember that a car or a truck can only really go forwards or backwards. So run to the sides rather than directly away from it.
Make sure you’re safe and then move away. With vehicle attacks, there can often be a secondary attack, whether people jump out of the vehicle with knives or guns, or whether the vehicle explodes. In both cases, distance will keep you alive, so the further away you can get, the better. The decision about whether to help injured people is a difficult one. It’s hard to make decisions about the right thing to do in a situation like that – it’s often a case of adrenaline kicking in.
Sally Leivesley, managing director, Newrisk
It’s often suggested that people should hunker down. The advice comes from army and police training where people with weapons take cover and shoot back. In crowd shootings, early seconds of getting distance may give you your best chance of protecting yourself.
Determined shooters seek people out. If you remain in a confined space your chances may be a lot less than if you stay. The smart move is to get out if you can see a way to escape that keeps you protected. Assess the situation in the first few seconds.
Don’t always follow the crowd
With continuous shooting attacks it may be better to take side routes and not follow the main course of people. Panic may take a huge number of people in one direction. The shooter may target that crowd running away.
Robert Shaw, former head of counter-IED training for Nato’s Isaf mission in Afghanistan
Understand your environment
People can be cautious and better able to escape by being more observant. People on their phones – they’re just switched off.
Take a knee
There is a smart way to react when something goes off. It’s what the army calls taking a knee. Pause and study the environment. Don’t just get up and start running, because you might run into something.
Choose your escape route
Look for a route that’s covered from fire and covered from view – those are two separate things. A route running along a wooden fence might hide you but isn’t going to stop a bullet. And don’t run past the scene of the explosion: if there are secondary devices, you’re likely to be running towards them.
Set a course for niagara falls
Captain Rod MacDonald, dressed in his mariners’ whites, pushes a green button on the maple-veneer control panel in front of him, the word “WHISTLE” printed in black capital letters next to it.
A horn sounds from the Maid of The Mist – the storied tourist-boat whose predecessor first started traversing the tumbling waters at the foot of Niagara Falls in 1846. “I haven’t been here for that long,” jokes MacDonald, who has manned these vessels for 30 years. “But some days it feels like it,” he adds wryly, as the horn’s call ebbs. The crowd on the ship’s outer decks whoops in response, as the boat sets sail on this 20-minute journey, along the boundary between the US and Canada, into the mouth of one of the world’s natural wonders.
On the two decks below, crammed shoulder to shoulder, are hundreds of happy holidaymakers, all dressed (bar the hardiest thrill-seekers) in the Maid of the Mist’s by-now iconic translucent electric-blue waterproof ponchos to protect against the spray from the 130,000 cubic gallons of water that will barrel down before them. The ponchos balloon in the breeze as the ship eases out from the dock into the water. “Every trip is different and every person on board is different,” says Jose Rodriguez, who’s co-captained the ships here for two years. “That’s what makes it such a difficult experience to describe. That’s why it’s so special.”
Each of the Maid’s two vessels can carry up to 600 passengers. More than 1.6 million people took this journey in 2017, with similar numbers expected this year. (Its rival on the Canadian side, the Hornblower, ferried 2.4 million people along the same route in 2017).
“We’ll keep them wet for bit,” MacDonald says, smiling. The boat begins to pitch as it comes to a halt in the roiling turquoise waters in the centre of the so-called “horseshoe”, 250 yards from the centre of the waterfall. “We want them to experience the mist, the spray and the sound of it all.”
The spray is relentless, as are the shrieks from the sopping-wet passengers on board as the water cascades in pleats across the rocky lip of the waterfall above. “This is where I get the magic from,” MacDonald says in his soft Canadian brogue. “Seeing the enjoyment and the clapping. I really don’t ever get tired of that.”
As one of the most storied brands in US tourism, the Maid of the Mist has worked its way into the cultural history too: it’s been in films, television shows and even become a wedding venue – 20 have taken place on board so far this year. The Maid is also apparently immune to a pattern in tourism to the US since the presidential election of 2016 that’s seen a fall in international visitors. In 2017, the number of those coming from abroad fell by around 4 per cent, a decline many attribute to the erosion of American soft power over the past two years – the so-called “Trump Slump”.
It continues to appeal to a domestic audience. “People think that we Americans are jaded,” says David Allen, a 56-year-old aerospace engineer from Indianapolis who’s taken the trip with his wife and daughter for the first time today. “But in our heart of hearts we still want to be amazed by things.”
“That’s why we chose this spot,” says his wife, Susan, cheerily, of her family’s vantage point at the front of the boat. “We wanted to get wet.”
ABOUT: Tomos Lewis is Monocle’s Toronto bureau chief.
The discreet charm of Melbourne’s public transport
There are few better ways to understand the difference – and rivalry – between Australia’s two biggest cities than by taking a ride on each of their emblematic means of public transport.
Sydney’s ferries are known to the world, because almost everything about Sydney is known to the world, because Sydney is a monstrous and incorrigible show-off. Melbourne is very much not a show-off. But though Melbourne enjoys annoying Sydney by passive-aggressively suggesting that it knows better, this is not to say that Melbourne does not know better. Where Sydney has ferries, Melbourne has trams.
Melbourne’s network is the largest in the world. It has more than 475 trams trundling between 1,700 stops along 250km of track. The city’s trams should be better known. It’s not for want of trying: when Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2006 the opening ceremony saw a winged tram appearing to land in the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The tram that people think of when they think of Melbourne trams has nostalgic cachet. It is the stolidly handsome green and gold W-class, built by Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways between 1923 and 1956, which remained in service until the mid-1970s. The W-class has been superseded several times over but a dozen or so of these stalwarts still ply the City Circle route.
Earlier this year, 134 retired Melbourne trams were offered for sale by VicTrack (which oversees trams and railways in Victoria). Businesses and community groups were invited to tender for a tram at the bargain price of au$1,000 (€630), with VicTrack offering the caution that to return a tram to full operation might run up to au$650,000 (€410,000). At the time of writing, consideration is being given to the applications: Melbourne, if it remains true to its traditions, will not relinquish such municipal treasures to any yahoo with deep pockets and a plausible patter. Especially if they’re from Sydney.
ABOUT: Andrew Mueller is a contributing editor at Monocle. His favourite Melbourne tram route is the 64.