Friday 15 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 15/12/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Retail / Gaia Lutz

Word on the street

When Lisbon hosted Monocle for its inaugural Quality of Life Conference in 2015, it felt as though the city was on the brink of something. After emerging from a recession, things were starting to look up in Portugal. The businesses that had pulled through were getting on their feet again and a new generation of entrepreneurs was rising through the ranks. One such pioneer, Catarina Portas, opened A Vida Portuguesa, a shop that showcased the best of Portuguese craft and bricks-and-mortar retail. At the conference, she spoke passionately about the need to reinvent the high street. Since then, she has opened more shops in the city.

Image: Pedro Guimaraes
Image: Pedro Guimaraes

But yesterday, Lisboetas and foreigners who have passed through A Vida Portuguesa were saddened to hear that despite its success, its original location on the rapidly changing Rua Anchieta will close down next spring to give way to a business that’s geared towards tourism. “It’s a completely absurd situation,” says Portas. “There are whole streets filled with just restaurants and hotels.” As shocking as the news is, it isn’t exactly a surprise; almost a third of the original shops in downtown Lisbon have now shuttered due to similar pressures. “Tourism was a solution many years ago but now it’s killing the diversity of our commerce,” she adds. “It’s not about pointing fingers at any specific group; it’s a matter of balance.”

But Portas isn’t giving up the fight for a healthy high street. Following the announcement, she has worked on getting town hall to reflect on the state of commerce in the city. “There needs to be better control of the businesses that are opening, as well as help to protect existing commerce from soaring rents,” she says. “It’s important that we start talking about it.” Let’s hope her efforts are successful – as things stand, Lisbon’s high streets are for everything but “the Portuguese life”.

Gaia Lutz is Monocle’s Lisbon correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Image: Shutterstock

Affairs / Russia

Pressing issues

Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-year press conference and telephone call-in yesterday. “While the event was astonishingly tedious, Putin tried to demonstrate empathy for the Russian people and his prowess as a war leader,” Mark Galeotti, political analyst and author of Putin’s Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine, tells The Monocle Minute.

Amid what appeared to be choreographed questions from the public, the most talked-about topic was Russia’s war in Ukraine and the need to continue it. “Putin treats the war as though it is the weather; something that you have to endure rather than do anything about,” adds Galeotti. But not everyone is convinced. This week, Bulgarian lawmakers took the first steps to end a sanctions exemption on Russian oil. The decision to scrap the policy, which has raised millions of euros for Russia, is yet another setback for Putin, despite his apparent resolve to the rest of the world.

Diplomacy / Asia

Charm offensive

Tokyo will host the Asean-Japan Commemorative Summit this weekend to mark 50 years of bilateral relations between the two sides. Leaders such as Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, who will co-host the event as the Asean chair, and Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, will attend the three-day gathering. A new framework of co-operation between Japan and Asean’s member nations is expected to be announced. Nine out of the bloc’s 10 members will participate; the junta in Myanmar was not invited. Timor-Leste’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmão, whose country is expected to join Asean in 2025, will attend as an observer. Japan has been focusing on diplomacy in Southeast Asia in recent weeks, from officially upgrading diplomatic ties with Vietnam last month to a joint commitment this week to do the same with Thailand. At a time when powers such as China and Australia are also vying for influence in the region, this weekend’s summit will be a chance for Tokyo to turn on the charm.

Illustration: Karin Kellner

Advent gift guide / Global

Let there be light

Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Then let us inspire you with our Advent gift guide. Every day until Christmas, we will be showcasing one item featured in our Alpino newspaper, which is out now in kiosks and available from our online shop.

Table lamp by Bocci
Vancouver-based studio Bocci’s has handcrafted, round table lamps that will cast a warm glow through their glass spheres.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Rafał Milach

Photo of the week / Poland

Frontier justice

A guard patrols Poland’s ancient Białowieża Forest, Europe’s largest primeval woodland on the border with Belarus, Russia’s closest ally. The picture is part of Monocle’s report on a region that is now a focal point for Europe’s divisions. To find out more, pick up a copy of our winter newspaper Alpino, which is out now.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Urban mental health

We investigate what effect the urban environment has on city dwellers’ mental health, from high stress to increased isolation, and explore some of the ways in which cities can provide a solution to these problems.


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