Monday. 17/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Waltz on in

Care to dance? Some 5,000 politicians, celebrities and believers in high society will gather in Vienna on Thursday for the historic Opera Ball. Although the Austrian capital hosts about 450 such events during its annual months-long ballsaison, a tradition dating back to early 19th-century Habsburg court life, this grand event is by far the highlight. The interior of the grand neo-renaissance-style Vienna State Opera is emptied and transformed into a ballroom, with guests paying up to €23,600 for a 12-person box from which to watch proceedings (food not included). Teenage debutantes open the night with a carefully choreographed waltz and everyone takes part in a quadrille at midnight.

It’s an old-world tradition, full of pomp and echoes of Austria’s former monarchy. But it’s one that you can’t help but be fascinated by. How often do you see people of different generations together, dressed in formal attire, to dance the night away? It’s also big business: each guest spends about an average of €300 on everything from preparatory dance classes to plates of Sacher sausages for sustenance.

As the Monocle team found out while reporting our Austria-themed March issue, which will be on newsstands on the day of the ball, this small European country is bursting with stories where tradition butts up against the modern world – be it the couple keeping vintage public weighing scales up and running or the cafés sticking to their most indulgent, time-honoured cake recipes. Our latest issue pays homage to the rarefied, decadent and sometimes odd tales that give Austria its enduring charm, as well as the lessons this plucky Alpine nation can teach the world.

Aviation / Québec

Clearing the air

Québec-based transport manufacturer Bombardier exited commercial aviation last week by selling its stake in the A220 jetliner programme that it shared with Airbus SE. The jet, known as the C-Series, was Bombardier’s ambitious attempt to compete with Boeing and Airbus – although cost overruns almost bankrupted the company in 2015. The A220 sale will make nearly CA$600m (€420m) for Bombardier and, to help ease its debts further, the company is reportedly in talks to shed either its business-jet or rail division. The wax and wane cycle of luxury-jet sales might make the sector less dependable than a rail unit (which relies on government contracts) but Bombardier’s rail division has irked transit agencies in Toronto, New York and Switzerland in recent years with delays and technical issues. Deciding which division to bet on won’t be straightforward.

Urbanism / Arizona

Wrong direction

Crossing the road carelessly in Phoenix, Arizona, could soon land pedestrians behind bars. The city council is proposing changes to its jaywalking law, which would result in first-time offenders receiving a $250 (€230) fine and repeat offenders facing potential jail time. Other US cities have previously proposed laws that hit pedestrians with fines in an attempt to encourage safer streets: lawmakers in New York tried to introduce a similar bill last year that would have prohibited texting while walking.

But these proposals are often met with criticism from transportation experts, who suggest that the policies don’t address the issue of careless driving. A New York-based study shows that drivers are at fault for more than three quarters of fatalities and serious injuries involving pedestrians. If Phoenix is committed to improving the safety of its streets, introducing measures to slow (or curb) traffic would be a better idea than threatening jaywalkers with the clink.

Retail / Germany

Low lights, high sales

Those who argue that bricks-and-mortar retail is in terminal decline would do well to head to Euroshop, the retail trade fair that runs until Thursday in Düsseldorf. With more than 110,000 visitors expected over the event’s five days, it’s an opportunity to take the temperature of the industry and get a look at innovations in shop design. In the spotlight this year is lighting: a substantial section of the fair is devoted to companies that specialise in the sector and a series of talks will explore how light in shops can be used to drive sales. To fight against the rise in digital retail, making physical shops welcoming is a priority: sensitive lighting can lead customers towards products as well as contributing to a relaxing atmosphere – quite the opposite of the harsh, white glow of a computer screen.

Education / Hong Kong

Dress for success

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has announced that all of the city’s schools should take an extended break until 16 March as part of its effort to manage the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Since the Lunar New Year holidays concluded, many pupils in Hong Kong have been required to attend lessons via video conference. But some have become a bit too comfortable with the home-learning set-up, leading schools to introduce a strict “no pyjama” policy. Not attending school isn’t ideal – but demanding pupils show up for their video class in presentable attire seems a fair requirement despite the circumstances.

M24 / The Menu

Directly from nature

We feature a new Helsinki restaurant that’s pushing the boundaries in sourcing local ingredients and a UK initiative supporting hospitality entrepreneurs. Plus: what’s bubbling on Poland’s food scene.

Monocle Films / BELGIUM

Brussels + Antwerp: The Monocle Travel Guide

Belgium had no fashion history until six young designers put their country at the centre of that world in the late 1980s. To celebrate our latest travel guide, we travel to Antwerp to see how the fashion scene has matured. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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