In an issue where both business and the French Foreign Legion loom large, our editor in chief identifies some potential synergy between the two (based on his own experiences in the South American jungle).
We’ll start this issue with a bit of time travel. No, we’re not getting in some weird Elon Musk backed contraption that’s going to vault us into the future. Instead we’re going to jump back in time – all the way to autumn 1994, to be precise.
I was just getting back on my feet after six months of nursing injuries sustained in Afghanistan and was keen to get back into the field and do some reporting. My friend and colleague Zed (he was in Afghanistan too) was also eager to do a good story so, following an evening of cooking up ideas in my garden, we decided we would head down to French Guiana to do jungle training with the French Foreign Legion. In the weeks that followed we sent daily faxes to the legion’s public-affairs officer in France. Eventually, thanks to some extra-early-morning phone calls, we received the go-ahead to book our flights to Cayenne and report to the liaison officer based in the République’s South American enclave.
French Guiana didn’t disappoint in terms of backdrop and characters. The European Space Agency’s launch facility, mixed with heavily armed legionnaires and an array of illegal migrants looking to get to Europe, provided ample storylines. We set to work finding the right angle to bring back to our editors in London and Hamburg. After a few days on base we headed south to patrol along the Brazilian border and then went back to Kourou to watch an Ariane rocket go off course and dump its payload of shredded satellites into the Atlantic.
After a week on their base and various camps, I’d interviewed at least 20 legionnaires from almost as many different nations and was starting to see the attraction. Who wouldn’t want a new life if you knew you were certain to be kneecapped back in Belfast’s suburbs? The same applied to 21-year-olds from Hanoi who had a reasonably fast-track shot at an EU passport. Then, for those who had reached officer status, there was the promise of camaraderie and sunshine later in life at the legion’s retreat in the south of France.
As numerous nations try to grapple with youth-training schemes to arrest high unemployment, while also attempting to raise the retirement age, the legion offers a few interesting cues in terms of how we might consider supporting and profiting from retirees. Instead of solely focusing on reinstating national service for over-18s, why not develop a special force for over-65s? Think of an experienced, engaged group of men and women who could fill civil defence, security and humanitarian roles around the world. Consider what it would do in terms of keeping people fit and healthy, not to mention how it would tackle one of the biggest killers: loneliness.
For this annual entrepreneurship issue we sent our Paris-based senior correspondent Sophie Grove to check in on the legion’s activities and found that under President Macron’s watch, its ranks are expanding – as are its deployments overseas. From a business perspective we thought that this peculiar arm of the French military was a good fit, as it’s the perfect place to flee should your dream venture implode: if you need to beat a hasty retreat, just sign up and drop out for a couple of years. Alas, the only hitch is that you need to be male and under the age of 39.
In other news, it’s been a busy summer at Midori House and our other bureaux. Our books team sent our forthcoming tome on cities to print; you’ll be hearing more about a little series of summits we’ll be doing on the subject in the coming weeks (if you’re not on our invite list, sign up to our newsletters at monocle.com/subscribe/newsletters). The books team have also been cooling off in the Baltic while working on our upcoming Helsinki travel guide, as well as scouting for potential real estate while working on our Athens guide.
In Zürich we’ve assigned Marie-Sophie Schwarzer, who edits the magazine’s Travel and Inventory pages, to be the resident correspondent for the next stretch. Meanwhile, over in Los Angeles, we’re getting ready to start work on our new little outpost in Culver City. Like so many things property-related it has been slightly delayed but we look forward to welcoming you towards the end of October.
As this issue makes its way down to Cornwall to hit the presses, we’ll also be taking up our positions in Bolzano for the return of our Summer Weekly series; you will be able to find it on better newsstands across Europe throughout the month of August. While you’re catching your summer sun, you can pick up your copy of our newspaper from Thursdays or, if you prefer, order the entire run via our subs team. This year we’ve given the responsibility for distribution to the efficient people at Swisspost, which means that the logistics are much improved.
If you have any questions about upcoming projects, or need some tips, you can drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with my colleague, Hannah Grundy, at email@example.com. Cheers to a sunny end of summer.