Thursday. 24/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

OPINION / CHRISTOPHER CERMAK

Reasons to be cheerful

I’m one of the lucky ones: I flew from London to Vienna last Thursday, in time to spend the holidays with my family. We’re a small household of three and before any Austrian readers fear that I’m carrying the new strain, I shielded for five days before flying and got tested when I arrived, no thanks to Vienna airport security, who waved me through unconcerned based on their old laminated map that still had London coloured in yellow rather than high-alert red.

My escape from London admittedly puts me in a cheerier mood than many will be feeling this Christmas. Whatever your personal situation, might I suggest staying away from the news today and focusing on a bit of self-healing. If you are a sucker for punishment and reading this column anyway, below are a few positives to draw from Europe’s grim headlines – a small measure of good cheer as we hunker down for the holidays.

More coordination: Unlike the go-it-alone approach in March, European nations this time seemed to agree that they can do more by working together. The European Commission quickly issued guidelines to EU nations to reopen essential travel, so long as arrivals agree to tests and, or, quarantines. Even France and the UK reached a deal within 48 hours to reopen borders for truck drivers and rail, air and ferry passengers.

A vaccine is coming: Headlines here in Austria are filled with news that European regulators approved the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, allowing the first EU-wide jabs to begin on Sunday (many other countries have already started). Uncertainties and delivery issues abound, yes, but let’s take a moment to be thankful for science this Christmas.

Brexit upsides: It’s the height of irony that no-deal Brexit contingency plans likely helped soften the blow of a sudden UK-EU border closure this week. Wouldn’t it be equally ironic if this finally pushed negotiators to reach an agreement to stave off an actual no-deal Brexit on 1 January? Surely the fresh chaos and food shortages must convince the two sides that it’s not worth throwing away a deal over... fish?

The UK and EU have proven capable of working together when it matters most. Here’s hoping they can use that goodwill to reach a trade deal before the new year. Now read on below for some cheerier news before tuning out for the holidays. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Society / Japan & China

Animal magnetism

The pandemic has grounded many of us this holiday season but one delayed journey has found the Japanese celebrating: the resident Chinese pandas at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo will be extending their stay. Ri Ri and Shin Shin, both aged 15, were on a 10-year lease from China until February 2021. The pandas and their Tokyo-born daughter, Xiang Xiang (pictured, on right, with Shin Shin), have been major stars at the zoo and on national television. Since Xiang Xiang was born in 2017 she has provided a boost to Tokyo’s economy to the tune of ¥26.7bn (€210m), according to one study. Xiang Xiang was supposed to leave at the end of December but, due to difficulties in finding trained specialists to travel with her, she’s now staying until May – and it’s expected that her parents will be granted a five-year extension. Now that China has its panda diplomacy in order, perhaps some of this positivity will carry over into Beijing and Tokyo’s frayed relationship.

Literature / UK

Tome sweet tome

Ever the optimists here at Monocle, we’ll remember 2020 for (among other things) rekindling the public’s love affair with the written word. Research by Nielsen showed that the UK’s first lockdown almost doubled the average adult’s reading time and, in the weeks following its second, which came to a close at the start of this month, booksellers across the country reported record sales.

Publishing giant Faber enjoyed its second-best year of sales since it was founded – thanks in part to the success of the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which had chins wagging around the (digital) water cooler in spring. It’s no surprise that under such extraordinary circumstances people have found comfort in literature. But we’re not out of the woods yet. So if you find yourself in need of a comforting Christmas read, try Jonathan Coe’s uplifting Mr Wilder and Me. Or ditch the onslaught of televised period dramas and go straight to the source: have a crack at Middlemarch.

Music / Europe

Gig economy

To say that it’s been a tough year for the live-music business would be an understatement. While many did make valiant efforts to provide online alternatives, hopes are now pinned on a 2021 revival: there’s been talk of festivals introducing thermal scanners and rapid on-site testing to ensure that the season can go ahead as planned. Sergio Ricciardone, founder of Turin’s Club to Club festival (pictured), expects that many events might even benefit from having had a compulsory fallow year.

“It will be easier to sell tickets to people who have been stuck in their house in front of their TV for so long,” says Ricciardone, who is confident that festivals will be back to normal by the time of Club to Club’s 20th edition in November 2021. “What I learned from this year is that more time makes a better product,” he says. “We’ve had two years to work on the details and ensure that everything will be perfect when we return.”

Cinema / USA

Heart of the action

Tonight, while you sit back and watch your favourite holiday movies, and ponder the films that you hope to see when cinemas reopen for business next year, why not think about planning a trip to Hollywood itself? One of the most anticipated openings of 2021 is that of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which aims to be a shrine to the history of Hollywood and the Oscars. Appropriately enough, the museum will open a week after the Academy Awards ceremony, which was rescheduled for 25 April to allow more time for post-production on films that were delayed by the pandemic. On display will be an impressive memorabilia collection, from a full-scale model of the shark from Jaws to Dorothy’s slippers from The Wizard of Oz. “Over the past century, motion pictures have reflected and affected major historical issues and events,” Bill Kramer, museum director and president, tells The Monocle Minute. “We are committed to highlighting the social impact of motion pictures.”

Merry Christmas from the whole Monocle team. We’ll be back on Boxing Day with our regular Weekend Edition.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Best of 2020, part 1

In the first part of our look back at 2020 we hear from Blake Mycoskie: serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Toms, the shoe company behind the one-for-one giving model. Blake’s new venture is called Madefor, a program helping people cultivate good habits. We also sit down with Maria Hatzistefanis, founder and CEO of Rodial, the skincare brand she launched in 1999 with her own small investment.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, our new book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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