Friday. 18/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Alexei Korolyov

Mountain rescue

At Stuhleck, a popular ski resort some 100km south of Vienna, there’s a flurry of activity as lifts are tested and slopes groomed. But there are no skiers around, except for one or two trespassers who I spot after accepting the offer to inspect the cordoned-off reaches of the mountain on a snowmobile (this feels a bit like starring in my own movie).

The country’s skiers will soon be on their way. In a rare move, Austria went against the spirit of European solidarity when it decided to open its pistes on 24 December, in time for Christmas and New Year. Germany, France and Italy have all forbidden winter sports over the holidays for fear that it would push up coronavirus infections. Vienna did make some concessions to its neighbours by introducing a new quarantine requirement for the vast majority of people making a cross-border trip, effectively leaving Austrians as the only eligible customers. But it’s still welcome news, says the Stuhleck resorts’ general manager Fabrice Girardoni. “We’re going to lose at least 30 per cent of our business – people coming from abroad – but we’re still happy that we’re allowed to work.”

While the slopes will open, other aspects of the Austrian economy will not: restaurants and hotels remain shut until at least 6 January, throwing up new challenges for Girardoni and his 140-strong team. “People will only be able to come here for a day and they won’t have anywhere indoors to warm themselves up,” he says. “They’ll have to eat their food outside. What about people with children? It’s kind of crazy.” The country’s other favourite winter pastimes – opera and attending balls – have also been banned for the time being. The downhill run will go some way towards bringing holiday cheer to this ski-happy nation.

Alexei Korolyov is Monocle's Vienna correspondent.

Diplomacy / Somalia & Kenya

Territorial divide

Somalia recalled its diplomatic staff from Kenya this week and gave Kenyan diplomats seven days to withdraw from Somalia. The severing of ties relates to a long-standing dispute over the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland, which declared independence in 1991 but – partly due to its valuable oil deposits and important position on the Gulf of Aden shipping route – remains unrecognised by Somalia. The latest escalation stems from Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s (pictured) meeting with Muse Bihi Abdi, the president of Somaliland, on Monday. After the talks, it was revealed that Kenya plans to open a consulate in the breakaway region in March, a move that’s sure to antagonise the Somalian government even further; an international-tribunal hearing concerning a separate maritime border dispute is set for the same month. Combined with the possible consulate opening, March will prove to be a fateful time for both countries.

Economy / South Korea

Redressing the balance

South Korea has won plaudits this year for its competent handling of the pandemic. Now statistics on 2019 released this week by the government show that it has made good progress on tackling inequality too. South Korea’s income gap, already on the lower end of the scale globally, has fallen to its lowest level since 2011 and is in contrast to neighbours China and Japan, which both have reported problems regarding inequality.

South Korea’s poorest 20 per cent have seen earnings rise thanks to a welfare support scheme, implemented as part of an income-led economic growth drive spearheaded by South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Moon hopes to make further progress next year: yesterday he announced a “grand transformation” of the country’s economy in 2021, highlighting housing stability for low- and middle-income people as a priority. It’s a bold commitment in a challenging time – but one that will burnish South Korea’s international reputation further if it succeeds.

Media / Germany

Final flourish

For more than 35 years, Jan Hofer (pictured) has been among the most recognisable faces on nightly German public-television programme Tagesschau, which is known for its no-nonsense take on the news. Dubbed “Mr Tagesschau”, Hofer moderated his final newscast on Monday night. During his career he has reported on three German chancellors – Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel – and the collapse of one Berlin Wall. Maintaining the show’s characteristically unemotional take during that event was particularly hard, says Hofer, but it was still essential for the old-school moderator. “It would be disastrous to express an opinion through gestures or facial expressions,” he says. “The credibility of the broadcast would be destroyed.” Nevertheless, Hofer did end his final transmission with a bit of levity, removing his tie in a nod to retirement and his most famous blooper, when he accidentally sported a light-blue tie for his report ahead of a major World Cup clash between Germany and Argentina. Who said that the Germans don’t have a wry sense of humour?

Culture / Global

Against the grain

Couscous, the fluffy yellow foodstuff of North Africa’s Berber people, was admitted to the Unesco list of intangible cultural world heritage this week. Submitted for consideration by Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania – four nations that rarely agree on much – the dish serves as a symbol of “international co-operation”, according to Unesco. It joins the dying whistled “bird language” of Turkish farmers, Germany’s venerated organ craftsmanship and the marimba music of Colombia and Ecuador. But is it fair to say that couscous feels somewhat less glorified than its fellows? Should we now expect a few more carbohydrates to find their way into that impalpable hall of food fame? If so, might we suggest a delicacy of continental Europe: frites and mayonnaise. Anathema to the American palette, the dish is to be enjoyed with a small wooden fork on park benches in Bruges, Amsterdam or Paris – as well as in the company of friends.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Triumph and Disaster

Dion Nash founded Triumph and Disaster in 2011 after retiring from playing professional cricket for New Zealand’s national team. The independent brand’s hair, face and body care lines are inspired by New Zealand’s natural beauty and sold by Selfridges, Liberty London, Harvey Nichols, Mr Porter and hundreds of hotels and salons globally. The company also opened a new flagship store in Auckland earlier this year.

Monocle Films / Global

Japanese gift-wrapping: Lesson 6

If you wish for a steady stride to navigate the challenges of the coming year, the Bally curling boot might help to get the message across. This heritage footwear design comes in an equally elegant box. Affirm your gratitude by wrapping it in a beautiful fabric square, known as furoshiki. Find your perfect gift at The Monocle Shop.

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