Tuesday. 6/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Sophie Grove

Raising the stakes

France’s bakers, millers and even the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, have long argued for the baguette to be included on Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. They finally got their wish last week when the French staple made it into the UN agency’s selection, alongside Lipizzan horse breeding and Slovenian beekeeping. While that might sound like an achievement, it also reflects the endangered status of the baguette. Though trips to the boulangerie to buy these crusty sticks remain a central part of French life, their popularity has declined in recent years. Indeed, France’s bread consumption has decreased by almost a quarter over the past 10 years, according to the Observatoire du Pain (“Bread Observatory”).

Bread in France is a good barometer of society and, in effect, the crusty French baguette is being pulled apart from both ends. On one side are supermarkets that continue to offer cheaper bread over the counter in out-of-town megastores that have long been a thorn in the side of independent shops selling more expensive pain tradition. Big farms and giant mills have also been on the rise for many years at the expense of smaller specialist outfits. At the other end of the tussle are the gluten-free and sourdough contingents who are eschewing the baguette altogether.

Yet the reality that the country even has an Observatoire du Pain speaks volumes. Whichever way you slice it, good bread is still a matter of national pride and, unlike in other countries, a preoccupation for many (a popular television show called La Meilleure Boulangerie de France, or “The Best Boulangerie in France”, will return for its 10th season in 2023). Twelve million French people still buy bread every day; perhaps the baguette’s inclusion on Unesco’s list will help to regenerate its quality and turn the tide of low-quality flour. In the meantime, I will raise a glass to the UN agency’s judicious decision and dream about the bready moments that defined my three years of living in Paris: those spontaneous baguette-and-wine picnics; the delight of finding good bread in a tiny village in the middle of Normandy; eating the perfect jambon-beurre. I’m suddenly feeling hungry. Is it lunchtime yet?

Sophie Grove is an executive editor of Monocle and editor of its sister publication ‘Konfekt’.

Image: Reuters

DIPLOMACY / COLOMBIA

Back on the table

At a summit involving the country’s high commissioner for peace, Iván Danilo Rueda (pictured, on right), delegates from the National Liberation Army (ELN) and others, Colombia has reached an agreement with the ELN to allow indigenous Embera groups displaced by war to return to their lands in the west. The commitment is the first significant milestone in peace negotiations with the country’s last remaining active rebel group. Colombia has endured almost 60 years of armed conflict between left-wing guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries and the government, resulting in more than 450,000 deaths.

The latest push for peace fulfils a campaign pledge by Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro. “The fact that Petro was elected as Colombia’s first left-wing president has been crucial in getting the two sides to talk again,” Anastasia Maloney, our correspondent in Bogotá, tells The Monocle Minute. “This agreement is a sign that they are able to agree on something but it does not include a ceasefire of any kind.”

Image: Reuters

POLITICS / FRANCE

Reputational damage

​​Nicolas Sarkozy (pictured) is back in the headlines – for the wrong reasons. France’s former president began an appeal against a corruption conviction yesterday, challenging a ruling from last year that found him guilty of bribery and “influence peddling” while in office.

It’s not the first time that a former French head of state has been convicted of a crime: in 2011, Jacques Chirac was given a two-year suspended sentence for embezzling public funds while mayor of Paris. Chirac, who denied the allegations, avoided incarceration but the charges went on his record. Sarkozy has also denied any wrongdoing so far and his appeal has allowed him to avoid house arrest or prison. A hearing on 16 December will review both the original verdict and the sentence. Whatever the judge’s verdict, it appears that Sarkozy has already lost in the court of public opinion.

Image: KarinBorghouts

Culture / Belgium

In plain view

After a €100m restoration by Kaan Architecten and its grand reopening earlier this autumn, the 1890 neoclassical building of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) appears unchanged from the outside. But it’s the radical reworking of the interiors – now modern, white cube galleries that have increased exhibition space by 40 per cent – that have had people talking. It was initially celebrated for its modern twist and playful approach to displaying classical art but opinion has recently soured, with some critics including La Tribune de l’Art comparing the space to a sterile hospital.

The museum’s director, Carmen Willems, dismisses the criticisms. “The reactions so far have largely been very positive,” she says. “We want to be a museum that stimulates creativity and remains in dialogue with the society in which it is situated. We look to the future with an open mind and great enthusiasm.” KMSKA points to the fact that more than 100,000 people visited in the first few weeks after reopening in September. Whatever the feeling about the architecture, there’s no doubt that the museum is striving to be more democratic. Its National Expo, which premieres at the end of the month, will feature 100 works from amateur artists.

Image: Niaulab / Zozotown

FASHION / JAPAN

Try before you buy

Leading Japanese online fashion retailer Zozotown is opening its first physical shop in Tokyo’s upmarket Omotesando neighbourhood. Instead of selling clothes directly to customers, Niaulab – from niau, meaning “to suit” in Japanese – will stock 700 pieces solely for trying on; it will be staffed by stylists who will help customers to assemble outfits that can then be ordered online. Reservations for two-hour slots will start from 16 December.

The approach is an acknowledgment that some shoppers prefer to have some element of human interaction over a wholly online experience. “Colours, how a customer feels and their thoughts – these things are important when it comes to choosing clothes and designs that make people look good,” Zozotown’s CEO, Kotaro Sawada (pictured), told broadcaster NHK. “Face-to-face service has an advantage in that area.” While all of the new data that the shop will gather will clearly help Zozotown, the move also shows that online shopping could still benefit from some real-world experience.

Image: William Jess Laird

Monocle 24 / The Menu

Björn Frantzén and Patrick Kriss

Swedish chef Björn Frantzén’s debut restaurant in the UK, how Helsinki’s new Café Savoy is drawing inspiration from France and why Toronto’s new Ace Hotel is a destination for some of the best food in the city.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: December/January issue, 2022

Monocle’s annual Soft Power Survey ranks the major players in the gentler aspects of the diplomacy game. How does your country fare? Elsewhere, we preview a potentially pivotal year for Taiwan, shine the light on Iraq’s unlikely culture push and open the door to the best festive finds from Hudson to Genoa. Order your copy today.

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