Tuesday. 3/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

There in spirit

There are many unusual aspects to this mid-pandemic Olympics. For those of us lucky to be at the venues, it often feels like uncharted territory. The vast new National Stadium, which can host up to 68,000, is devoid of spectators other than journalists, officials and the athletes’ teammates. It’s curious, though, that in real life – and even more so on television – the variegated seating blunts the sense of emptiness.

Thanks to the upbeat loud-speaker announcements, bright lights and steamy weather, there is no shortage of atmosphere. The mini Toyota robots trundling around the stadium are mesmerising; a tiny white version of Toyota’s Tokyo taxi carried discuses back to the athletes after every throw and Sweden’s gold and silver win in the event was accompanied by “Dancing Queen” booming out of the sound system. These Olympics have also seen a fragmentation of the usual hegemony of a handful of nations in track and field, with plenty of countries claiming gold medals: Greece won its first men’s long jump gold; Italy won gold in both the high jump (shared with Qatar) and the men’s 100 metres; and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (pictured) won Puerto Rico’s first ever track and field gold in the 100 metres hurdles.

The new mixed events have added a novel dimension too: Poland won gold in a mildly chaotic mixed 4x400 metre relay; in a moment of handover confusion – right in front of my seat – one German athlete collided with a Jamaican runner in the process. Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas put paid to the idea that the absence of spectators would weaken performances when she broke the world record with her final jump. Maybe spectators aren’t so essential after all.

Image: Alamy

Defence / USA & Afghanistan

Duty of care

US media organisations sent letters to Congress last month pleading for the expansion of a refugee-resettlement programme for Afghans who had worked with the US in some capacity (including as interpreters and fixers for journalists) during the past 20 years of conflict. Yesterday the US State Department agreed: US-based aid groups and media organisations will be among those able to refer Afghans who fear retribution from the Taliban; as many as 50,000 applications for resettlement are expected. The UK has faced similar calls by former British commanders to expand its own programme to all interpreters after about two thirds of applicants were rejected in recent weeks. Although Western nations might no longer have a strong hand in Afghanistan’s fate, it’s only right that the US and its Nato allies take care of those who helped foreign forces, aid workers and journalists at great risk to themselves and their families.

Image: UN Women/Ellie van Baaren

Politics / Samoa

Deal breaker

Samoa’s new prime minister, Fiamē Naomi Mata‘afa, has fulfilled a campaign promise by opting to scrap a controversial Belt and Road Initiative port deal that was championed by her predecessor. China’s proposed $100m (€84m) construction of a wharf in Vaiusu Bay played a key role in Samoa’s recent national election. “Samoan elections are traditionally about personalities, not policies, but we saw that changing this election cycle,” Fiona Ey, legal analyst and honorary consul of Papua New Guinea to Samoa, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

China accounts for 40 per cent of Samoa’s external debt, an increasingly common situation for developing nations. But with voters backing her, Mata‘afa (pictured) is hoping to move away from foreign investments that could be doing more harm than good. “It signals a mature approach,” says Ey. “It really is rare for a small developing country to put on the brakes in this way with such a large donor.”

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Paris

Silt to last

As Europe’s most densely populated city, Paris has long been searching for ways to reintroduce biodiversity into its tightly packed neighbourhoods. One idea that has been bandied about since the early 2000s is fully uncovering the Bièvre river (pictured), a tributary of the Seine that used to wind across Paris but by 1912 was completely covered over, having become too heavily polluted. This week engineers announced that they are on course to reopen a 600 metre stretch of the waterway next year. Its revival will not only bring nature back to the city and create an inviting new public space but running water also helps to lower temperatures during scorching summers. It’s hardly the first project of its kind: in Seoul the Cheonggyecheon stream (covered for decades by an overpass) has been restored and so too has the Manzanares river in Madrid. The success of these projects highlights the importance of keeping an ear to the ground in urbanism; sometimes the solutions are right under our feet.

Image: Alamy]

Culture / Brazil

Talking point

From a devastating fire at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro a few years ago to last week’s blaze at the warehouse of São Paulo’s Cinemateca, the largest film archive in South America, a lack of investment in Brazil’s cultural institutions has yielded tragic results. But one other institution that caught fire, in 2015, is starting a new life. The São Paulo-based Museum of the Portuguese Language (pictured) reopened this weekend after a €13.9m restoration, marked with a ceremony attended by the presidents of Portugal and Cape Verde and a number of former Brazilian presidents; Jair Bolsonaro, who has shown little interest in cultural spending, was absent. The museum, which is in the city with more Portuguese-speaking people than any other, is one of the few in the world dedicated to a language. Hopefully its reopening will draw more attention to the condition of cultural institutions in Brazil, which has seen too much of its cultural heritage threatened by avoidable disasters.

M24 / The Menu

London’s new openings

We head to Humble Chicken, a new take on the traditional Japanese yakitori bar in Soho, and meet the team behind Kudu Grill, which is bringing South African braai to southeast London. Plus: we find out more about a family-written Greek cookbook, ​​Sea Salt and Honey.

Monocle Films / Africa

São Tomé: blinded by the sun

Monocle's Steve Bloomfield and photographer Zed Nelson travel to São Tomé to report on the corruption and misguided ambition that have been a blight on the landscape of this tropical African island.

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