Friday. 1/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Loaded questions

Oh, sure: Romans are performing Rossini as though their balconies were La Scala; Parisians are murmuring disquiet over how best to conduct an affair during le lockdown; and New Yorkers are gossiping about their online dates over online cocktails. The pandemic is making short work of dusting-off city stereotypes like there’s no tomorrow (don’t panic, there will be). No points though for guessing what Londoners are doing because, yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing – trying to score points. Welcome, readers, to the land of the Zoom quiz; the pub gone virtual.

It started so innocently. Calls to check in with family and friends, occasionally a video-chat – ideal for showing-off the children’s new artwork or the inevitable close-up of the homemade sourdough. But in the UK this frequency of communication has become awkward. So what do you do? Turn it into a game, of course. Better still, turn it into a quiz at which there will be winners and losers. But why? Why does heartfelt inquiry about the state of your friends’ health and sanity have to be disguised with questions about the Winter Olympics and the lengths of rivers? Gimme a second, I know this one!

There is something about the fact that the British codified sport in the 19th century in what was very much a case of, “Of course, let’s have fun but within rigid literal and metaphorical regulations, chaps, yes?” There is also something about having lots of history. The inference being that other places have little or less. There is also something about fetishising a classical education and misreading the notion of a “renaissance man”: beneath every avuncular exterior on tonight’s Zoom quiz you’ll find a lethal competitor that thinks a smattering of Latin mixed with remembering the names of Arsenal’s “legendary” 1990s defence makes them a king. One final answer, to lift a line from a recent TV drama about cheating in the TV quiz Who Wants to be a Millionaire?: “The British love a pub quiz because it combines their two favourite obsessions – drinking and being right.”

Society / Finland

Together but apart

May Day is one of Finland’s most eagerly awaited celebrations: every year hundreds of thousands head to parks and town squares to mark the end of winter and enjoy warmer spring weather. Not this time, however, as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has led to a clampdown on outdoor activities. In Helsinki, no retail will be permitted in market squares, public transport won’t run extra services and no public toilets will be brought to the popular picnic hotspot of Kaivopuisto Park. Instead, the capital offers an extensive online programme to encourage residents to celebrate from home as some of the country’s leading musicians and actors perform in an innovative “virtual May Day” edition. Anyone with a smartphone or computer can join the fun as their own virtual-reality character (pictured). It’s a first for Helsinki but could well offer a new model for future celebration. After all, May Day weather in Finland is famously unpredictable.

Culture / Japan

Department of cute

Japan’s well-known obsession with mascots is being put to good use during the pandemic. Not only is the nationwide sensation of Kumamon see issue 129 out in force but many Japanese have recently turned to Amabie. Legend has it that the yōkai (supernatural monster) – with long human hair, a bird-like head and the body of a mermaid – first appeared in 1846 in today’s Kumamoto prefecture, promising to ward off the plague if people drew its picture and showed it to others. Some 170 years later, public servants in Yokohama have displayed colourful drawings of Amabie in the city’s station, while a woodcraft club in the city of Mobara carved a wooden statue of the yōkai and placed it by a busy road. Even the government seems to believe that these characters might be more influential than politicians, using Amabie and Kumamon (both pictured) in public-awareness campaigns. Desperate times call for... cuddly measures?

F&B / Austria

Distanced dining

As some nations begin to ease lockdown measures, one question from the hospitality industry persists: what will dining look like during the next stage of the pandemic? Austria, which is set to reopen restaurants from 15 May, might offer a template. Regulations issued this week propose a limit of four adults (and their children) to a table, mask-wearing waiters and a healthy metre or more between diners. This, the government hopes, will keep staff and patrons safe. But two questions remain: is dining this way enjoyable and is it financially viable? “You don’t just go for food, you go for the ambience,” says restaurant consultant Adam Hyman. “That won’t be the same in a half-empty restaurant.” And with profit margins reduced, Hyman says that some subsidies or alternative financing (he’s proposing rent holidays) will remain essential. In other words, Austria’s proposal is a good template but more innovative solutions will be needed to keep restaurants open and thriving through this challenging period.

Society / Global

Spreading the word

Friday is upon us, which means that it’s almost time for… locktail hour. That’s just one of the many new words that have been created to put a smile on our faces during these trying times. Tony Thorne conducts contemporary-language research at King’s College in London and has been cataloguing our, shall we say, coronovations. He calls them frivolous words with a point; a “counter-narrative to the official line that we’ve had to adjust to and all the technical, scientific and governmental language that we’ve been forced to come to terms with,” he told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. Among his preferred terms are those that cross language barriers, such as the German words Coronaspeck (coronavirus fat – brought on by all that sedentary snacking), which has made its way into North American circles, or Hamsterkaufing, a combination of English and German that denotes unnecessary stockpiling. Got all that? Perhaps it’s time for a quarantini to wash it all down.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Hong Kong special

How are designers in the city responding to Covid-19? We learn what interior designer Joyce Wang has been up to under lockdown and meet graphic designer and advertising veteran Stanley Wong to learn about the campaigns that have piqued his interest. Plus, we find out if online lessons are going to be the next big trend by dropping in on a virtual fashion class.

Monocle Films / Japan

The international icon: Kengo Kuma

The beauty of Japanese design has won fans around the world but it takes great panache to translate it to large-scale projects. We sit down with architect Kengo Kuma in his Tokyo office to talk about the recently completed Japan National Stadium. It’s a building that has given a new lease of life to traditional craftsmanship and stimulated local economies.

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