Monday 7 December 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 7/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Leila Molana-Allen

Bumpy road to peace

“Yemen has been at war for 50 years,” my guard Ahmad says, looking over his shoulder as our driver wrestles the pickup truck’s front wheel out of yet another pothole. “When is it our turn for some peace?” In fact, the Shabwa region, linking the mountains of south-central Yemen to the Arabian Sea, has been a comparatively conflict-free spot in the war-torn Arab nation.

Since the civil war began in 2014 the province has in turn played host to government forces and the Iran-backed Houthi militia, as well as al-Qaeda, armed southern separatists and Emirati-backed mercenaries. But since late 2019, when government forces regained control of Shabwa and its capital Ataq, locals have begun to hope that better security could lead to increased prosperity.

Almost everyone I meet during the week-long trip through the area’s half-built streets and lush desert valleys speaks in hushed tones of new work opportunities and even the hope that foreign investment might return. New buildings are popping up and the resurrection of public services is planned – if not quite under way yet. But those living close to the province’s borders fear as much as they hope. In neighbouring governorates to the north and west, the multi-front, multi-party war that has killed more than 120,000 people rages on – and the prospect of the fighting creeping back south is never far away.

Indeed, later the same day we receive word that a car bomb has exploded on the sea road, bringing violence back to an area that had been calm for months. Ahmad might have to wait a little longer for peace – sadly there are still plenty of potholes ahead.

Leila Molana-Allen is Monocle’s Beirut correspondent and reports from throughout the region.

Image: Getty Images

Protests / Thailand

Reign of ire

Tensions simmered in Thailand this weekend over several concerns, including a spike in coronavirus cases among returnees from Myanmar and the return of student protests yesterday. The long-running demonstrations took a break on Friday and Saturday as people commemorated the death of the nation’s beloved late king Bhumibol Adulyadej, father of the current (and rather less popular) monarch, Maha Vajiralongkorn. “There was a mixed mood,” says our Bangkok correspondent Gwen Robinson. “In the midst of the protests there is a real sense of harking back to a time when people really did love their king. So there were a lot of pictures of the old king and crowds paying their respects.” Thailand’s leaders should heed the message: the nation needs a plan to quash the virus, control its reopening to tourism and allay tensions with the students. It’s the only way to claw back the waning public respect for the government and monarchy.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Milan

Clearing the air

Starting next year, smokers in Milan’s parks, transport stops, cemeteries and stadiums will be prohibited from lighting up within a 10-metre radius of other people – with a total ban in these areas to be enforced by 2025. The city is following in the footsteps of Singapore, where smoking in public was restricted to designated stretches of pavement last year. But the Lombardy capital seems to have learned some lessons from the Lion City’s approach.

UK researchers at the University of Birmingham’s City Region Economic and Development Institute, for instance, criticised Singapore’s focus on tobacco – which it says also resulted in air pollution being concentrated in smoking areas – and for not targeting heavier-polluting activities, such as heating and cooling systems, or vehicles. With this in mind, Milan is simultaneously banning diesel heaters, while helping its citizens to breathe easier by pledging to install electric charging points for cars at all of the city’s petrol stations.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Germany

Step on the gas

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn has signalled new plans to reduce its environmental impact by trialling hydrogen-fuelled trains from 2024. The new technology will first replace a diesel locomotive in the state of Baden-Württemberg and, if successful, will be rolled out nationwide in the hope of making the network carbon-neutral by 2050. Each new hydrogen train will save 330 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year: enough to power the annual energy needs of nearly 40 homes. This isn’t the only forward-thinking German public transport manoeuvre in the offing either: there’s also a project under way, funded by the Ministry of Transport, to trial autonomous buses in Baden-Württemberg, starting over the next two years in the cities of Mannheim and Friedrichshafen. Both schemes are timely reminders that even a car-centric country like Germany needs to shift gear and invest to keep its cities moving.

Image: Fuminari Yoshitsugu

Hospitality / Japan

Rising sun

While it’s true that Japan is home to some of the world’s best hotels, its luxury sector is dominated by new builds with interiors reflecting the overseas brand names that own them. Making a case for change, however, is the Mitsui Kyoto. The aristocratic Mitsui family has owned the land opposite the Unesco-listed Nijo Castle since the 17th century. With the help of Japanese architects and designers, a luxury hotel was developed that reflected the building’s heritage – guests still enter through the 300-year-old main entrance, Kajiimiya Gate. “We wanted to build a Japanese luxury hotel from scratch under the Mitsui family name,” says the site’s general manager Manabu Kusui. While it’s true that some travellers value the familiarity of meeting the same hotel experience around the world, the Mitsui Kyoto makes a strong argument for broader horizons – and for a hotel that reflects the destination.

M24 / The Stack

‘Konfekt’, ‘A-Z’, ‘Living In’

This week we preview Monocle’s new sister title, Konfekt, with its editor Sophie Grove. Plus: German newcomer A-Z Das Deutschlandmagazin and Mariluz Vidal from Openhouse magazine about their new book Living In, which features impressive modern residential architecture.

Monocle Films / Vienna

Made in Vienna

Craftsmanship has been at the beating heart of Vienna for hundreds of years; Monocle Films visits three family-run companies that have made tradition relevant.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00