Saturday 5 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 5/12/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday


Tomorrow’s world

Companies are placing their bets and taking a guess on how next year will look and feel. Will our cities bounce back? Will working from home be switched for “please let me back in the office now”? Will tourists return to fill our pavements, restaurants and shops? After a year on pause, it’s time to decide what you think is about to happen. And it seems that there’s a belief afoot that the current “new normal” might be packed away, put in a tightly sealed box and placed somewhere it can be quietly forgotten.

In London, Eataly, the Italian food retailer that does things big when it comes to property deals, has said that it’s pressing ahead with the opening of a huge site in Broadgate at the start of 2021. Sure, initial contracts were signed some years ago but the project is on the edge of the currently slumbering City of London and right next to the should-be-teeming-but-isn’t Liverpool Street train station. In short, it only makes any sense to take down the hoardings and hire hundreds of people if you believe that commuters will be back again – and quite soon.

Then, this week, both the CitizenM and Hyatt hotel groups signed up to be part of the redevelopment of London’s Olympia – a project that will need crowds to come to its music venue, cinema, theatre and shops if it’s going to thrive. These projects are further off but hint that hospitality’s bigger players don’t think that the fundamentals have shifted that much: people will fly in (Olympia benefits from its speedy links to Heathrow airport) to attend trade shows, see a band or have a couple of nights at play in the city. Of course, the months to come will be choppy – the UK this past week has seen the collapse of two vast high street retail groups – but companies are beginning to make their moves and reveal ambitions.

Of course, many are going to be resistant to the notion that some of the changes to the world of work that we have seen in 2020 will unravel again – in some instances, very rapidly. When you are in the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to tell what has changed for ever and what will fall away again. But we shouldn’t think about office life in isolation because what will willingly lure people back to their companies is not the nine-to-five routine, nor squeezing onto a packed train. The things that have always pulled people into the embrace of the city are what happens at the end of the day or at lunch, or what they see through the window. It’s the city’s promise of the new, of places, experiences and moments that cannot be found with ease beyond its borders. A day at the office becomes attractive when it segues into drinks, an exhibition, a play, dinner with the gang. Especially when the place you work in has all these lures on its doorstep.

And, while hard to think about now, even the thought of the crowd, the heaving unity of an audience, will one day also reassert its power and pull us back to former routines. Well, that’s my bet.


Smock and awe

As our attention shifts to the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines, there is one silhouette that will likely become a more persistent presence: the lab coat. Crisp, white and uniform, these clinical garments hold a variety of connotations: practical and protective in lab contexts; an expression of authority and care in others.

In the US, white medical outfits were introduced in the late 1800s to replace the rather funereal (yet dirt-concealing) black garments worn by surgeons up until that point. The colour white not only distinguished professional doctors from their quackier counterparts but also evoked cleanliness, precision and even hope as medicine advanced and patients’ chances of survival increased. By 1915 they were commonplace.

While white-coat ceremonies are still a fixture in many medical schools, marking the beginning of a medical career, the garment has been buffeted recently. Some claim that they harbour germs, and others that they’re a barrier between patient and doctor. Some even view their design as containing symbolic, hierarchical hurdles among doctors themselves – traditionally, the more junior the doctor, the shorter the cut of the coat.

It has almost the opposite connotation in countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, however, where many state school students wear miniature iterations of the lab coat over their own clothes in class: a sartorial equaliser, and a counter to the exorbitant cost of school uniforms in those countries.

For many of us now, however, the more persistent presence of the lab coat in coverage of the pandemic comes with a simple reassurance: things are getting better.


Going solo

When John Donne wrote that “no man is an island”, he argued for human interconnectedness and against isolation (writes Lee Seabrook-Suckling). New Zealand can’t help being made up of literal islands but it should try its best not to act like one.

Post-lockdown, our country has returned to normality: there are no lifestyle restrictions here. Yet there’s one substantial change to New Zealand as we head into 2021: it once again has the insular feeling of the 1990s-era state I grew up in. Back then it was an obscure nation that some thought was in Scandinavia. Films took six months to reach our cinemas. The cost of international travel was a four-figure affair.

Pre-pandemic, New Zealand was already difficult to reach. Now nobody is budging on our tightly locked borders. Tourist hubs such as Queenstown are silently dying. International courier deliveries don’t take six days from the planet’s far side anymore – it’s six weeks. We can’t pop to Sydney for a Bondi Beach long weekend, nor on a red-eye to close a Los Angeles business deal. It’s as though we’re in an aircraft holding pattern: circling, watching the ground, never deciding to land. Is that sustainable? What happens when, psychologically, Kiwis run out of fuel? When we can’t stand being isolated and want to be a prosperous part of the global community, not a hermit removed from the world?

The past 30 years of globalisation made New Zealand great. A quieter-living haven with the perks of global connectivity and inclusion. And yet we’ve lost that connection. When other nations reopen in 2021 with an understanding of the realities of living with a virus, we might have positioned ourselves to be forgotten about.


Associated press

Rainer Nowak was born into a family of journalists: his father was editor in chief of the Austria Press Agency and his mother a culture writer for Austrian national public service broadcaster ORF. It’s only natural then that the Tirolean-born Nowak rose through the editorial ranks of Viennese daily broadsheet Die Presse to become editor in chief and publisher. Under his direction since 2012, the paper has picked up numerous gongs with his editorial team repeatedly voted Austria’s best. Here he tells us why watching Netflix is like visiting a sweetshop and makes his pick for Austria’s hardest-hitting TV journalist.

What news source do you wake up to?
Der Spiegel and Bild give a good range on what’s going on in Germany and Austria. For international news, it’s The New York Times and The Guardian.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with headlines?
Just coffee: a double-espresso macchiato. Very Italian.

Something from the FM dial or Spotify for your tunes?
I listen to the radio, typically ORF, which is like the Austrian BBC. It has a great international channel, Ö1. I tune in to the 07.30 show every morning so that when I meet my colleagues, who also listen in, we’re all on the same page.

Five magazines for your weekend sofa-side stack?
Zeit Magazin, Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine and I used to read Die Weltwoche but it’s since become a little too right-wing. I picked up the Delayed Gratification magazine, which is super nice. And we publish Schaufenster every Friday, which I have to read, of course: I do the restaurant critiques.

Favourite bookshop?
My favourite bookshop in Vienna is Phil on Gumpendorfer Strasse. It’s also a restaurant and is quite well known in the city.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
It’s a podcast on history called Geschichten aus der Geschichte. I try to avoid political news podcasts as I hear enough of it at work. And during the pandemic we all have to listen to virologist Christian Drosten in Germany who is sort of the medical voice of the crisis – so he’s in my ear as well.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
For the past five years the best thing I’ve watched on Netflix is still The Crown. But Netflix is a little bit like a sweetshop: when you go inside, you’re really happy and excited and ask, “Where do I start?” But then after a sweet or two, you say, “OK, that’s too much, no more.”

A favourite movie?
The 2011 cold war spy film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the novel by John le Carré.

Do you still make an appointment to watch the nightly news?
On TV we have our evening news show, Zeit im Bild 2, which is at 22.00 with Armin Wolf. He’s a really tough interviewer – that’s why they call him The Wolf. He does the hardest interviews on German-speaking television, that’s for sure.

A favourite Christmas tradition?
Having raclette with my daughters and enjoying coda di rospo [monkfish] with black lentils on Christmas Eve. After Christmas Day it’s skiing, skiing, and more skiing – usually at Hotel Post in Lech or at Hotel Der Seehof in Goldegg.


Deep space

‘Sad Hunk’, Bahamas. Five albums into a zero-filler, pitch-perfect career spinning wry reflections of the personal-as-universal, Canadian Afie Jurvanen (aka Bahamas) wisely thinks, “Why stop?” Good for him, and for us. Pared-down percussion and the welcome return of Felicity Williams’ harmonies are behind another irresistible outing for the performer. The title was inspired by teasing from Jurvanen’s wife after he was asked to pose as “brooding” in a photoshoot. That frown has since been turned upside down.

‘Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds’, Werner Herzog. Following profiles of former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and British travel writer Bruce Chatwin, director Werner Herzog has teamed up with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer for a new documentary. This time the topic has quite an impact: meteorites. Their marks have often forged a deep cultural meaning for the communities who live close to where they have struck. With his trademark intensity, Herzog immerses himself completely in the subject matter, venturing deep into the craters across different continents to find out more.

‘To Be a Man’, Nicole Krauss. From New York to Tel Aviv and Switzerland to South America, these stories span the globe. But Krauss keeps returning to a central theme: women and their relationships with men. Two teenage girls at the International School in Geneva become entangled in sexual escapades in their boarding house; a widow in Tel Aviv finds a new lease of life when an old man turns up on her doorstep claiming to be her long-lost husband; a man in a refugee camp encounters a woman he knew in their previous lives. Some stories veer into the realm of speculative fiction but the emotions that Krauss writes about always feel very real.


Nature’s county

Mayo, Ireland’s third biggest county, is known on the Emerald Isle for its rugged green countryside and unspoilt coast. Its third-largest town, Westport, houses some 5,000 people. Originally a planned town – commissioned by the first earl of Altamont in the 1780s, who lived in a nearby stately home – it is typically popular with tourists for its neat cobbled streets and the picture-perfect river flowing through its centre.

And since 1892, Westport has been home to The Mayo News. Still independently owned, the weekly newssheet continues to design and print its papers onsite and has picked up national and international awards for its compelling writing and handsome editorial aesthetic. Its five journalists all work under one roof and its editor Michael Duffy has headed the paper for the past 10 years. Here he clues us in on Gaelic football, Mayo’s claim to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson’s bad week.

What’s the big news?
On The Late Late Show – Ireland’s biggest chat show – one of the stars was a young boy from Ballina. Mike Maloney, his name was, just 14. He was playing up on stage alongside Dermot Kennedy, one of our biggest musicians. We ran it on the front page.

Do you have a favourite headline from a recent issue?
Mayo is a small county but we made headlines on the global stage when Joe Biden was chosen as president of the US. He has relatives who live in Mayo; we spoke to his cousin recently and she said that “Ireland is in his heart”. We ran that at the top. It was good to see that one of the most powerful people in the world has Mayo in mind.

Do you have a down-page treat?
In our opinion section we have a Good Week/Bad Week column, where we find two people from the news to compare how their weeks are going. In a recent instalment, after Mayo won the Connacht [Gaelic football championship] title, we spoke to the team’s manager. That was the good week. The bad week was Boris Johnson’s: he had to self-isolate for coronavirus again [as a precaution] after already having had it early on. Quite the bad luck.

How are you covering Christmas?
We’ll be trying to focus on the good news: the economy is open; the shops are open. People will be trying to get on with their lives as best they can. It will be tricky for us Irish as we like to socialise but that won’t be easy now. That’s the big thing we have to do though: remain positive. We’re still going to enjoy our Christmas.


Jet set

The idea of taking an exotic vacation to some far-flung part of the world might sound as implausible as snow in August right now but Bonhams’ forthcoming sale of vintage travel posters is offering a hearty dose of wanderlust-fuelling escapism (writes Hester Underhill). From bathers reclining under parasols in Antibes to grinning skiers in Cervinia and gondoliers navigating Venice’s canals, the London auction house will be selling off some of the finest pieces of poster art from the first half of the 20th century on Tuesday.

Among the 114 lots are works by some of the format’s biggest names, including Erich Hermès and Jean-Gabriel Domergue, whose colourful lithographs evoke a bygone era when foreign travel was the reserve of the wealthy and glamorous. Don’t miss Domergue’s 1937 poster advertising Monte Carlo (pictured), featuring a fabulously chic couple with the gentleman resplendent in a top hat and monocle (€7,800-€10,000). “You can really disappear to anywhere in the world with these,” says Bonhams’ vintage poster consultant Richard Barclay. His pick of the bunch? “Lot 87 (€780-€1,000) is a cross-section of an Imperial Airways plane. It’s a wonderful example of how people used to travel in the 1930s.”


How do I tell someone they’re not invited to Christmas dinner?

Mr Etiquette’s diary is a point of pride. It’s well-kept, with dates, times and the names of those he’s meeting. But for 25 December this year, that list of names has had to stay particularly short due to “Christmas bubbles” in his part of the world. All this has meant that he’ll have to tell a few of his nearest and dearest that they’re not invited for a festive roast. So how to negotiate this prickly conversation? It’s best to keep it short and sweet. Don’t talk in circles when delivering the news – rather, honestly explain that, “I’ve made plans with Mr Tiddly and his uncles, so we won’t be able to have you join us.” Then simply provide reassurance that you’ll do something together again when bubbles permit.

Despite this, Mr Etiquette is somewhat grateful that he’s not in the southern hemisphere, where Christmas bubbles are non-existent and difficult conversations of another kind are taking place. His pen pal, Mr Impropriety, is currently trying to hold firm on a decision not to have his extended family over for a Christmas celebration, despite their insistence that because he has a pool, he’s obliged to do so. What’s Mr Etiquette’s sage advice here? A simple white lie: perhaps Mr Impropriety has just found out that high chlorine levels have made swimming impossible. Ever so sorry, dear uncles and aunts – until next year.


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