Friday. 15/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Karina Tsui

Scale of the problem

I spotted my former piano teacher among protesters in Hong Kong’s central business district this week. “How did you recognise me?” he said nervously, readjusting his mask. He added that he was on his way to lunch but the look in his eyes suggested otherwise. While we were speaking, hundreds around us – black-clad youths and white-collared financiers alike – were shuffling barricades made from bricks and bamboo into the road in an attempt to disrupt traffic. Such scenes have become a daily occurrence; protests, once reserved for weekends and occasional evenings are bleeding into the heart of the working week. Some might have woken up on Monday anticipating business as usual but violence has erupted at universities and commercial areas across the city.

Seeing the diversity of people on the streets has taken me back to 1 July. On that day nearly two million Hong Kongers marched peacefully to demand the “high degree of autonomy” they were promised exactly 22 years earlier, when the city transitioned from UK rule. These days such moving, hopeful displays are harder to come by.

Tonight many sleep-deprived Hong Kongers will head home anticipating another weekend of havoc – and I’ll be preparing my audio recorder to cover another piece of history in the making. But I’m less hopeful than I was in the summer. The violence has escalated and started to overshadow the original cause. What’s worse, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Society / France

This calls for champagne

It was back in 1805 that 27-year-old Madame Clicquot took over a small wine company in Champagne; over the next 61 years her wine grew from a cloudy concoction to a refined tipple fit for European royalty. The pioneering businesswoman would soon become known as the Grande Dame of Champagne and the business she ran still bears her name: Veuve Clicquot. Since 1972 the prestigious brand has honoured its Grande Dame through the annual Veuve Clicquot Business Woman awards; previous winners include Zaha Hadid and Sarah Lavoine. The prize has been rejigged to recognise women’s impact beyond business and this year’s winner has also shined a spotlight on corporate social responsibility. Chrystèle Gimaret, of Artupox International, was rewarded for building a cleaning company that prioritises work-life balance for its employees. There was also a new Bold Champion award for men: Frédéric Mion, president of Sciences Po, who has been pushing gender equality at the vaunted French university. Felicitations!

Geopolitics / Kosovo

Precarious state of independence

Ghana’s decision to withdraw its recognition of Kosovo earlier this week hasn’t gone down well in Europe’s newest capital, Pristina. The move might not seem like a tectonic diplomatic shift but Ghana is now the 16th country to abandon Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The manoeuvre is certainly manna from heaven for Pristina’s old adversaries, and leaders in Serbia have suggested that it could see other countries follow suit. But why the shift in loyalties? “Belgrade doesn’t have much muscle on these issues,” Mark Galeotti, a professor at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, tells the Monocle Minute. “But its longstanding ally, Russia, has been making a big play in Africa in recent months. It could be potential deals with Moscow – rather than diplomatic loyalty – that is at play.”

Urbanism / Puerto Rico

Road from ruin

Earlier this week the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Puerto Rico’s overall infrastructure – comprising roads, dams, drinking water, the power grid and more – a near-failing grade of “D minus” in the civil-engineering group’s first such assessment of the country. Two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the island, causing almost $150bn (€135bn) in damage, the top priority is to repair the power grid; ASCE gave that an “F”. Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced has unveiled a $20bn (€18bn) plan to modernise Puerto Rico’s power network over the course of 10 years – but that might not be enough. Without substantial federal aid, which the US has been slow to send, the state’s weak infrastructure will not only have to put up with ongoing blackouts but will also struggle to withstand the effects of future disasters.

Design / The US

Enduring appeal

The word from the design world’s trade-fair circuit this year is that the calendar has become too crowded. But one aspect of the industry we’re pleased to see grow is collectible design. Geared towards those investing in a piece of furniture for the long term – and not discarding it when the next “trend” emerges – events such as New York’s Salon Art + Design, which kicked off yesterday at Park Avenue Armory and runs until Monday, emphasise quality in their curation. High-end pieces from exhibitors including London’s Gallery Fumi and Barcelona’s Side Gallery will showcase work that straddles the border of art and design, highlighting craftsmanship, creativity and provenance while doing so. We hope that these principles will seep into the dialogue at larger design fairs, where “latest and greatest” sadly tends to trump “made to last”.

M24 / The Urbanist

The fall of the Berlin Wall, part 2

In the second part of our series, we look beyond Germany to ask a fundamental question: why do we divide people? From a 3,200km land border in North America to Europe’s last divided capital, we explore what lessons – if any – we’ve learnt from Berlin.

Monocle Films / Denmark

Cosy Homes: Hellerup Estate

In the first of two films to celebrate the publication of The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes we visit the residence of Knud Erik Hansen, managing director of Carl Hansen & Søn and grandson of the company's iconic founder. Hansen has transformed an impressive Danish estate into a comfortable family home, filling it with beautiful furniture and preserving the property’s charm.

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