Tuesday 12 March 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 12/3/2019

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Comparing notes

Have you ever been abroad and popped into a shop to buy a bottle of water or a sandwich, only to find that your chump change is no good there? The march of digitalisation means that an increasing number of shops are going cash-free in what is seen as a move towards a quicker, safer payment system for everyone involved. It’s particularly prevalent in the Netherlands, where signs reading alleen pinnen – card only – now appear everywhere from supermarkets to train stations.

This is a problem for travellers whose cards charge high fees for usage abroad or don’t fit into the usual Visa/Maestro rubric. It’s even more of a problem for people without a bank account, as Philadelphia has found out. Nearly six per cent of the city’s population – close to 95,000 people – are classed as “unbanked”, according to federal banking data. As a result the city council has just banned cashless shops – the first major US city to do so. This doesn’t tackle the underlying issue of why some people are outside the banking system but at least it recognises that there’s a problem. And for all those travellers heading to Philly this year, it’s a great chance to get your Lincolns, Jacksons and Franklins out.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / France

Divine intervention

The 13th-century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia, are among Africa’s most significant cultural landmarks but many are concerned by the condition of the buildings. Today the Unesco World Heritage site plays host to French president Emmanuel Macron as he conducts a whistlestop tour of the region promoting cultural and economic ties. Also on the agenda, however, are the churches: in October, Macron promised Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, that France would help with the site’s restoration. His soft-power move comes at a good time: China has invested heavily in infrastructure across Africa in recent years, while Russia has extensive military ties throughout the continent. By taking an interest in assuring the legacy of Africa’s past, Macron could guarantee a stake in its future.

Image: Alamy

Technology / Japan

Phone home

Yesterday Japan reflected on the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country eight years ago. One of the lessons the nation learned was that the cornerstone of the communication network when disaster struck was the phone booth: Japan’s hi-tech mobile-phone network all but collapsed as millions of people tried to use it at once. There are currently 157,875 phone booths across stations, hotels and convenience stores around the country. But according to a survey, nearly 80 per cent of schoolchildren do not know how to use them; some don’t even know that they exist. To tackle this issue, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East, which operates the phone-booth network in eastern Japan, has set up a website in a catchy manga style to educate young people. The firm is also going to launch a virtual-reality service to let people experience how the booths work – useful whether a crisis hits or not.

Image: Alamy

Technology / California

Monumental mistake?

Silicon Valley has plans for a massive monument celebrating the region’s accomplishments. But how do you build a tangible symbol for a region famous for digital innovation? That’s the quandary that the world’s designers are set to contend with, assuming San Jose City Council greenlights the project later this month and launches an international design competition. Plenty of Americans are sure to scoff at the project, not least because of Facebook’s role in disinformation campaigns and controversies surrounding privacy. In fact, late last week, Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren declared that she’d break up “big tech” firms – Facebook, Google and Apple among them – if elected president in 2020. If she gets her way, Silicon Valley’s monument (expected to be unveiled in 2021) could symbolise not only the region’s myriad accomplishments but the beginnings of a bygone era too.

Image: Getty Images

Sport / UK

On the hoof

The first major horse-racing event of the UK season starts today despite an outbreak of equine flu last month that threatened to scupper it. Cheltenham Festival, which sees jockeys steer their fillies along fiendishly difficult steeplechases, attracts about 250,000 spectators over four days – but at one stage bookmakers were offering odds of 2-1 on it being cancelled. The meet adds £100m (€116m) per year to the economy of the Cotswolds region and is a key fixture in an industry that’s worth more than £1bn (€1.2bn) in the UK. Jockeys and business owners alike will be heaving a sigh of relief: as evidence mounts that uncertainty over Brexit is causing an economic slowdown, the country needs all the help it can get.

M24 / Made in France

Traditional techniques

Vitalie Taittinger discusses the state of the champagne industry, we visit the kitchen of master baker Christophe Vasseur in Paris and we head to Le Salon d’Agriculture. Plus: we take a tour of Maison Michel – the milliners to Chanel – and one Monocle staffer muses on her love of Opinel knives.

Film / Lebanon

The Monocle Travel Guide: Beirut

Join us on a filmic tour of this vivacious Mediterranean metropolis brimming with delicious food, retail and hospitality.


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