Thursday. 14/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Fruits of their labour

It’s ironic that spending a few months indoors should make us rediscover – and appreciate – the natural world. Many people, myself included, are finally taking the time to wistfully observe the seasons changing outside our windows, noticing for the first time the plants and flowers that grow in our unkempt gardens. Watching images of ducks, foxes or deer take to our streets, it’s easy to fall for the idea of the countryside idyll and wish for a nature that’s unspoilt, wild and human-free.

However, our fantasies tend to ignore the fact that the countryside is also a place of agriculture and hard work. If we’re getting bountiful baskets of fruit and vegetables delivered to our doors it’s because there are people who, throughout the pandemic, have kept our food supplies coming. Like nurses, doctors and postmen, they are essential workers. Yet in countries such as my native Italy, they all too often work without a contract, for a paltry hourly wage.

This week the Italian government reached an agreement to regulate the conditions of work for those without a contract. The deal also extends residency permits for undocumented migrants who have laboured on Italian fields and whose work is integral to keeping the system afloat – something that other countries discovered as the influx of seasonal workers nearly ground to a halt during the pandemic. Ensuring these workers’ rights is paramount to recognising the fundamental role that they play in society. If a return to nature and the countryside is what we wish for, we cannot afford to leave the people who work there behind.

Health / Costa Rica

Positive diagnosis

Costa Rica has fared far better than most in confronting the coronavirus pandemic, keeping the number of cases lower than even those of another international high performer, New Zealand. The reason for the Central American country’s success is largely due to its quick decision to put the country on lockdown in March. With only seven deaths recorded and six people currently in intensive care, Costa Rica has recently started easing those restrictions again. For a country with a burgeoning tourism industry, its positive handling of the pandemic, compared with nearby nations such as Panama and Mexico, might bring some unexpected positives over the summer, says Monocle’s Latin America correspondent Lucinda Elliott. “Reducing the number of coronavirus cases could make Costa Rica a more attractive [tourist] destination in the months to come,” she told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

Transport / Japan

Clean getaway

East Japan Railway Company (known as JR East) has laid out an ambitious new decarbonisation goal, pledging to cut net carbon-dioxide emissions by 50 per cent (from 2013 levels) by 2030 – and to zero by 2050. The Japanese railway giant, which operates essential commuter lines and intercity Shinkansen networks, said that it would step up its use of renewable energy and test a hydrogen-based fuel cell and battery hybrid train in 2021. While it makes sense for rail operators to lead the way – rail travel is already cleaner than most transport options – the announcement followed news that JR East estimated a ¥100bn (€859m) year-on-year monthly loss in April due to the country’s lockdown (traffic was down by more than three quarters on both conventional trains and Shinkansen lines). Passengers will no doubt return as lockdowns are lifted. Companies such as JR East are making it clear that, when they do, they remain determined to make travelling by train cleaner.

Tourism / EU

Neighbours first

As countries prepare for a different kind of summer tourism season, many are focusing on opening travel destinations to their friendly (and lucrative) neighbours first. The three Baltic nations will reopen their shared borders tomorrow, for example; Austria and Germany laid out plans for removing their own restrictions this week; and France and the UK agreed not to impose quarantines on those travelling between the two countries. The trouble is that such preferential treatment is technically illegal in the EU: member states cannot discriminate against other EU nations. The European Commission sought to inject some co-ordination into the process yesterday by unveiling a two-step plan for lifting restrictions. The first proposes “travel corridors” between countries with similarly low levels of coronavirus cases: Portugal could open up to Greece, say, but not to the UK or neighbouring Spain. But it’s unclear whether Brussels will enforce such guidelines. The upshot: expect countries to continue going their own (neighbourly) way for the time being.

Society / France

Deadlier than the male

It was only a matter of time before the authorities got involved. In France, the masculine le Covid-19 has crept into daily use in conversation and the media, angering Francophone linguists in the process. Thankfully, the Académie Française has put a stop to it, ruling that the virus is, in fact, feminine. The Académie goes into impressive detail in laying out its reasoning behind the change from le to the feminine la, primarily using precedents from other acronyms, which are the gender of their core word. State-owned railway firm SNCF (the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer), for example, is feminine because of la Société. After citing everything from Latin to English, the Académie found the core of Covid-19 to be la maladie (illness). Such a simple explanation begs the question: how did this error make it into French conversation in the first place? Well, that’s because le coronavirus (which refers to the family of viruses rather than Covid-19 specifically) remains masculine. And that isn’t confusing at all...

M24 / The Stack

‘Hypebeast’, ‘Good Sport’ and ‘Pools’

We speak to Megan Wray Schertler of ‘Hypebeast’ and Ben Clement from ‘Good Sport’. Plus: Lou Stoppard tells us about her stunning book on the allure of swimming pools.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tbilisi’s architectural revival

Rather than erase all evidence of Georgia’s Soviet past, the country’s architectural community is keen to preserve its history and give its once-foreboding buildings another – happier – lease of life.

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