Sunday 21 March 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 21/3/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Vax evasion

If you’ve been working from home and are missing spontaneous office chatter, here is a little excerpt of banter across the desks and over the bookshelves.

“Do you know when you’re getting yours?”

“I’m supposed to be getting mine in two weeks but my doctor called and said I might be able to jump in early as there have been a few cancellations.”

“My mom just had her second one so she’s really happy but her older brother isn’t so keen.”

“Interesting, because my cousin had the virus, got better, then got her jab and had to go into hospital because she had a bad reaction. I can see why some people aren’t that keen.”

“Which one did you get? Moderna?”

“I had a choice. I went for Moderna because it sounds nice. The other one is a bit of a mouthful…”

As vaccinating picks up pace around the world, I’ve been keeping a little mental tracker about behaviours, side-effects and resistance. My 102-year-old grandmother has had both her jabs and has been completely fine. She’s the type of woman who would have probably turned it down so someone else could have it but it seemed to be house rules that she needed to be vaccinated. Don’t get my mother started about the Ontario government’s poor rollout as she’s still waiting. She reminded me that it’s important that the province steps it up a gear, since some people in her building haven’t left their apartments in over a year. In London, many friends and colleagues have had jabs with mixed results. One senior staffer went for hers on Thursday, was entirely knocked out by it and needed a day to recuperate.

Here in Switzerland the vaccine is a topic that has more angles to it than just approvals, jabs and rollout. The sluggish acquisition and distribution of the drugs has become a source of national embarrassment for many. Why can’t a tiny, rich country known for efficiency do this better? How can it be that a nation known for big pharma and advanced research does not have its own vaccine in full production? And why is it that the federal government is in charge of pandemic policy but is leaving the vaccine rollout to the cantons? At the same time, there’s a heated debate about creating a two-tier society of those that have chosen to be vaccinated and those that have chosen not to.

A doctor friend who runs a family practice put it this way: “We have a very strong tradition here of not vaccinating. Many cantons and even certain valleys are known for their anti-vax stance. It cuts very much to the core of what it means to be Swiss. You’re free to make a choice and also to take responsibility. Of course, along the way it becomes political.”

Currently the Swiss media, not to mention ethics committees, are hosting lively discussions about whether it’s even possible to have a vaccine passport. Are we allowed to discriminate against people if they choose not to have a medical intervention? Is it acceptable to exclude people from travel or getting their hair cut if they haven’t been inoculated? And won’t we soon end up in a place where the unvaccinated will have to be given special recognition anyway so the whole “vaxxport” idea becomes a bit redundant?

My neighbour could be the poster boy (OK, he’s in his mid-eighties) for the problem that legislators, airline CEOs and many others face in the rush to get things moving, thinking that vaccines for all will solve everything. On my way out to run my Saturday errands I bumped into him as he was coming up the drive from his daily walk. He’s a sharp, feisty chap who’s definitely up for making mischief and always has a bottle of champagne chilled for spontaneous visits. He complained about the current government measures and made some fuss about masks. I asked him where he was heading for his holidays.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying in Switzerland. I’m not getting that bloody injection,” he said. “Just you wait and see what happens in two years to all those people who’ve been vaccinated.”

At first I was a bit startled by his take on the topic but then again, not entirely surprised. As a world traveller with a taste for southeast Asia, was he going to be banned from travel? In the short-term, perhaps. Would he be up for taking any number of airlines and governments to court, and spending his savings on making a point? Most definitely.


Beef encounters

Initially a pop-up restaurant from chef René Redzepi, Popl now has permanent digs in the city’s Christianshavn. This new neighbourhood wine-and-burger bar draws inspiration from the izakaya, Japan’s informal drinking establishments, in both furnishings and atmosphere.

It feels a world away from the foams and emulsions of its fancy forebear, Redzepi’s fêted Noma. The interiors here are sparse but never austere and provide a great backdrop for bubbly conversation and peerlessly good patties.

Subscribe to Monocle’s Digital Editions to access the latest issue of the magazine, our back catalogue and regularly updated tips for exploring key cities – such as this editor’s pick from our Copenhagen guide.


Quick smart

The nature of intelligence has baffled boffins since time immemorial, so it’s refreshing to see the topic tackled so deftly in a dashingly designed new children’s book (writes Josh Fehnert). Published by Corraini Edizioni, this charming 50-plus-page hardback answers a few big questions (What do we have in common with starfish and robots? Can insects see more colours than we can?) and is available in Italian or English.

Author Matteo Loglio is one of the aforementioned brainboxes as well as being an AI entrepreneur. But the real success of the book lies in its human touch and the bright-hued buoyancy with which it tames technology’s issues in a tactile and appealingly analogue format. An intelligent purchase, if you ask us.


Staying in character

When Jonathan Meades left London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the school’s principal, Hugh Cruttwell, told him that it would be best to break from acting until middle age, when he might settle into being a character actor. Decades later, when Cruttwell met his former pupil again, he joked that he hadn’t realised that the character’s name would be “Jonathan Meades”. By that time, Meades had established himself as a shrewd commentator on culture and architecture for the BBC, following on from a storied career writing about food, literature and much more besides. His characteristic rapier wit slices through his collected works, Pedro and Ricky Come Again, which is out now and published by Unbound. Here, he tells us about penning his next book, why he was prepared for lockdown and what we suspect is a satirically exaggerated evening-betterment routine. Ouch.

Where do we find you this weekend?
At home in Marseille, working. I am getting close to the end of a novel that is even longer than Pedro and Ricky Come Again, which is a mere 980 pages.

How are you finding all this extra time at home?
Save for very brief periods of my life, I have always worked from home. It’s not much different. Writing for a living is good preparation for lockdowns and curfews.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
The same as every other day: 30 minutes on my vélo d’appartment.

Soundtrack of choice?
Chamber music, mostly: Beethoven’s late quartets; Brahms’s sextets and piano quartets; or Schubert’s three final quartets.

What’s for breakfast?
Espresso – we have a bean-to-cup machine that is vital to our wellbeing.

News or not?
Yes: Le Figaro; The Guardian or The Observer; and CNews on television.

What’s for lunch?
Boudin noir or caillette or matjes herrings or oeuf sur le plat... nothing leaden.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Anchovies, capers, tuna, sardines and chickpeas.

Sunday culture musts?
The usual: Marianne, the London Review of Books and Literary Review. And Premiership football – watching Southampton get stuffed.

A glass of something you’d recommend?
After watching Southampton, hemlock tea is recommended.

Dinner venue you can’t wait to get back to?
Otto – probably the best bistro in Marseille.

Who would join?
Mrs Meades.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Valerian serum and hyacinth mousse for my face; avocado, rose musk and spinach chlorophyll spa for my hair; and a pumice enema.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
The same as every other day: Lee jeans, a black polo-neck and dark-blue suede moccasins.


Miso pork udon

Today our Japanese recipe writer offers a fail-safe take on a classic noodle dish, with rich miso-flavoured pork and an egg. Don’t mind if we do.

Serves 2


1.5 tbsps sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10g fresh ginger, finely grated
250g pork mince
2 tbsps sake
3 tbsps mirin
1.5 tsps soy sauce
4 tbsps red miso paste
2 tsps runny honey
200g dried udon noodles (or 2 portions of fresh udon noodles)
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
⅓ cucumber (100g) cut into thin batons
2 organic, fresh eggs, yolks separated
2 tsps toasted sesame seeds


  1. Place a frying pan over medium heat and add oil, garlic and ginger. Fry until they release their aromas then add the pork mince, breaking up the larger lumps with a spoon. After a minute or two add the sake, salt and pepper, and cook until it browns slightly.

  2. Put mirin, soy sauce, miso and honey in a small dish and mix until it becomes a smooth paste. Add to the pork and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens and becomes glossy.

  3. Bring 1.5 litres of water to a boil in a large pot and add the udon noodles. Follow the packet instructions for cooking time.

  4. Drain the noodles and rinse under cold running water. Leave them in the sieve to allow excess water to drain.

  5. Divide the udon noodles between 2 bowls, spoon in the miso pork and make a small dent in the middle of it. Gently slide an egg yolk into the dent. Arrange the cucumber and sprinkle with spring onion and sesame seeds. Serve warm.


Time to chill

Perched on a rugged tip of the California shoreline, the White Water hotel offers a slice of laidback coastal living next to the inviting Moonstone Beach. Its 25 rooms have an assortment of vintage and custom furniture, some with giant bathtubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The sandy tub chairs and raffia rugs of the 1970s-style lobby make way for a small breakfast nook and bar, where guests can grab a grilled sandwich, negroni or glass of California rosé from one of the nearby wineries in the Paso Robles wine region.


Essential utensils, 2.0

Japan is a nation that takes on any challenge with aplomb. Here we profile a few inspired inventions that can improve everyday life. Find these and more Japanese items we admire in our “Let’s do it better”-themed March issue, out now.

1. Banana case, by Skater.
Banish blackened bananas with this tough, ventilated case.

2. Air massager, by Panasonic.
Too much desk work? Slip into this cordless contraption to loosen the tight muscles around your pelvis, hip and thighs.

3. Cycle mitts, by Blue Lug.
Parents who use child-carrying mamachari bikes appreciate mitts that attach to the handlebars; this version from cycle shop Blue Lug is a cosy cut above the rest. Ding, ding.

For the full run-down nab a copy of the March issue here. Oh, and have a great Sunday.


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