Thursday 10 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 10/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Andrei Becharu

Opinion / Alexis Self

Season’s best

The Berliner-format Monocle Mediterraneo began as an antidote to silly season – the stretch of midsummer in which the lack of hard news usually leads editors down frivolous alleys. Though it’s unlikely that anyone would say that this summer has been lacking in headlines, this year’s newspaper still attempts to introduce some levity. As well as a visit to a French wildfire-simulation site, it also includes stories on less serious, though no less rigorously researched matters, such as swimming trunks and spritzes. If that hasn’t enticed you enough, here are five précis of pieces plucked from its sun-soaked pages.

A streetcar named triumph: The 10th edition of the Tram-Em European Tramdriver Championship (pictured) took place in the Romanian city of Oradea. Twenty-five teams from across Europe descended on the city with ticket punchers and coin belts at the ready. Read our trackside dispatch from the summer’s most exciting tournament.

Zürich’s cool weather ring: An aluminium ring suspended above the Swiss city’s Turbinenplatz is one of many ingenious ways in which the country’s local authorities are attempting to keep urban temperatures down this summer. The ring turns airborne moisture into a cooling mist that reduces the heat of the air rising from the concrete below.

Gig economy: Writer and historian Joseph Pearson chronicles the history of the gigolo from ancient Greece to 1960s Provence. As one would expect from such a tour d’horizon, there are plenty of salacious stories, including one involving the first Chinese emperor and (ahem) a member of his court.

New spritz on the block: Milan’s (and, indeed, the world’s) spritz scene has long been dominated by the red duopoly of Aperol and Campari. Canadian-born Meredith Erickson has chucked a fizzing grenade into this present dispensation with her new spirit Doladira. Find out how she’s hoping to shake up aperitivo hour.

How to beat the heat: We visit Europe’s first wildfire simulation site, nestled among the forests north of Marseille, to meet the firefighters who are training to put out this summer’s flames. Find out about the methods that they are developing to save lives as the continent faces record-breaking temperatures.

The Monocle Mediterraneo has arrived sizzling off the presses and is packed full of salubrious and seasonable summer stories written to be read on a beach, terrasse or poolside deckchair.

Pick up a copy of ‘Monocle Mediterraneo’, which is available via The Monocle Shop.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Brazil

Green-sky thinking

As Latin America undergoes an aviation renaissance, with struggling regional operators rising from the ashes under the new common ownership of Abra Group, Brazil has been earmarked as a key player in green flying. In São Paulo on Tuesday, Boeing vice president for global policy Landon Loomis said that Brazil could be influential in the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is made from vegetable oils and waste.

South America’s largest country is already a world leader in the production of biofuels, which, if used for planes, could account for 65 per cent of the industry’s efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. “Brazil has the immense knowledge of biofuels, alongside the raw materials, to be able to help other countries, and the wider aviation industry, make swifter moves,” Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, tells The Monocle Minute. “So it’s vital for countries in that position to share that knowledge globally via aircraft manufacturers and others.”

Image: Reuters

Technology / USA

Hack to the future

The 31st edition of the Def Con hacker convention commences in Las Vegas today with a surprising new partner: the US government. This year’s instalment of the annual conference will see the Biden administration supporting an event that is billed as the “biggest-ever public safety and security test of artificially intelligent models”. The government-backed contest will see as many as 4,000 attendees probing generative artificial intelligence (AI) systems such as ChatGPT and Bard in a bid to learn more about the technology.

The idea is that hackers will expose existing vulnerabilities or flaws, enabling AI companies to begin fixing any issues found. Earlier this year, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer application in history when it reached 100 million monthly active users just two months after launch. As AI continues to develop, lawmakers are seeking to co-operate more closely with the computer-security community as they look to regulate a rapidly growing industry. This event could bring new meaning to the phrase “political hack job”.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Taiwan

Splitting the vote

The Kuomintang (KMT) has made a lacklustre start to campaigning ahead of Taiwan’s joint presidential and legislative elections in January – and it could get worse. The main opposition party’s presidential candidate, Hou Yu-ih, who is currently polling third in what is traditionally a two-horse race, might soon find himself fighting a defensive battle for his party’s core supporters against a well-funded new challenger. Terry Gou (pictured), founder of the iPhone manufacturer Foxconn, is thought to be toying with the idea of joining the presidential race as an independent after losing the KMT primary to Hou earlier this year.

Both men support the “One China” policy, which sees China and Taiwan as two parts of the same nation. A Gou candidacy, therefore, would almost certainly split the conservative KMT vote and deliver the election to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which sees the island as a sovereign nation. The DPP’s candidate, the current vice-president, William Lai, is already comfortably ahead in the polls. Unless the opposition can unite behind one challenger, Taiwan’s top political job is Lai’s to lose.

Image: KEYSTONE/Ti-Press

Society / Switzerland

In dog we trust

Italian beachgoers might be used to four-legged animals patrolling the beach but dogs at Lake Lugano are an unusual sight for the Swiss. For the first time, the city of Lugano is testing whether dogs work as additional support for lifeguards. “Dogs have strong muscles and wear a special life jacket,” says Patrick Tempobono, president of the rescue company of Lugano.

“They can pull up to three people out of the water at the same time.” And, as they are popular with visitors, they give the lifeguards a great chance to draw attention to the dangers of the water. A dog school in Milan, which has been training water-rescue dogs for more than 30 years, helped to coach the Swiss team over the summer. The pilot project has been deemed a success. Next year, Tempobono’s team plans to train the dogs in-house to try to ensure another summer of safe swimming.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Menu


Monocle’s Amy Van Den Berg walks us through Biarritz on France’s Basque coast. Known for its rich food history, this region has experienced a culinary renaissance since the 1970s in which chefs have taken increasingly modern approaches to traditional Basque dishes. 

Monocle Films / Culture

Portuguese problem-solving

Lisbon-based architect and artist Joana Astolfi takes us on a journey through the Portuguese word desenrascanço, which means “to find an improvised solution to a problem”. She explains what it tells us about the nation’s culture and how it is reflected in an unusual structure in Comporta. Read more stories from the country in Portugal: The Monocle Handbook.


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