Friday. 13/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Moving on

As crude and simplistic as Boris Johnson’s election slogan may have been, the verdict of UK voters on Thursday was absolutely clear: it’s time to “get Brexit done”. And though it might not be the result that Brussels would have wanted, there’s no doubt some relief in European capitals today that Johnson’s Conservatives have at least won a convincing parliamentary majority. The result brings some clarity after three long years: MPs are likely to approve an EU withdrawal deal by the end of January, after which the next (admittedly, equally tortuous) phase of negotiations on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU can finally begin.

Brits on the losing side will be waking up this morning feeling dejected with the new, firmer course. Passions have run extremely high on this one (I for one, as an EU citizen living in the UK, had hoped for a course that keeps the UK tied more closely to the EU) but the time has surely come to accept that Brexit really does mean Brexit. Boris Johnson has long suffered from a credibility gap – now he’ll have no choice but to show us exactly what kind of Brexit he wants to get done.

Thursday will go down as one of the most fateful days in a year that has been chock-full of them. Beyond the UK, the US House judiciary committee prepared to impeach Donald Trump, while in Brussels, 26 EU leaders (all except Poland) embarked on perhaps the most ambitious collective reform in their history by pledging to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It feels as if all three of these major economies – the UK, US and EU – are now recoiling to their corners and tending to their own wounds. Just what kind of fighter emerges from each camp in 2020 will be fascinating (and possibly quite painful) to watch.

Transport / Germany

All the right signals

Commuters in Germany are being told to “Bitte alle einsteigen” as rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) unveils its new 2020 timetable this weekend. The changes include a fleet of shiny new ICE-4 trains and extra routes, such as a service between Dresden, Berlin and Rostock. DB is also working with Czech operator CD and Austria’s ÖBB to increase its high-speed services to other European countries. One thing that isn’t changing, however, is the cost of a ticket: DB has frozen its prices in response to the German government’s pledge to reduce taxes on train fares in an attempt to make rail travel a viable alternative to short-haul flights. It’s a stark contrast to rail systems in the US or the UK, where trains between major cities are often expensive and inefficient. But with climate change encouraging passengers to rethink their travel habits, other countries ought to be looking to Germany for clues on how to get their own rail systems back on track – and develop better thinking around mobility.

Fashion / UK

French connection

This week De Fursac, an attractive menswear brand with more than 50 shops across France and Switzerland, entered the UK market with a concession at Selfridges. De Fursac was founded in 1973 and this first step beyond the French-speaking world is part of a global expansion plan. It’s been made possible by the brand’s acquisition by SMCP, the Parisian firm behind Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot. SMCP itself was bought by Chinese conglomerate Shandong Ruyi in 2016.

SMCP’s tale is just one example of the increasing concentration of fashion-industry power and money in a handful of conglomerates. Yet it’s also telling because, rather than focusing on luxury or fast fashion, SMCP has homed in on the often-overlooked middle market. At De Fursac, a jacket will set you back €500, a jumper €200. There are plenty of shoppers who want solid designs without sky-high price tags – as SMCP’s 2018 sales of €1bn prove.

Art / Miami

Banana split

It’s been a while since a piece of art has caused genuine outrage but Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” – which debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach with a price tag of $120,000 (€108,000) – has done just that. Comprising a banana, duct-taped to the wall, it triggered countless think pieces before it was eaten in a spontaneous “happening” by another artist. Now Miami’s cleaners have reappropriated the artwork to criticise their scandalously low wages, asking if they are really worth less than a fruit. If the protests pay off, it’ll confirm 2019 as a bumper year for art as activism: London-based art group Forensic Architecture forced the Whitney’s vice-chairman, Warren Sanders, to resign by producing a film that highlighted his links to the arms trade, while artist Nan Goldin spearheaded a campaign against the Sackler family, whose donations to the arts have been tainted by their links to the US opioid epidemic. Soft (fruit) power, indeed.

Sport / Antarctica

Cool runnings

While most of us are busily following a morning’s Christmas shopping with an afternoon roast and a trip to the pub, something a little more challenging is afoot on the southernmost continent. The Antarctic Ice Marathon takes place today, with more than 50 contenders from 17 different nations running at an altitude of 700 metres and a wind-chill temperature of minus 20C – assuming the Katabatic winds don’t flare up. Last year’s winner was Poland’s Piotr Suchenia in a time of three hours and 49 minutes, just 15 minutes short of the race record. But if you think you’d be in with a shot of beating that, we suggest that you start saving: entry fees begin at $17,900 (€16,000). For what it’s worth, we’ll be sticking with the mince-pie marathon instead.

M24 / The Urbanist

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz

We meet Puerto Rican politician Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan and an outspoken critic of President Trump’s handling of the aftermath of hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Swiss spectacle: Fête des Vignerons

We clink glasses with winemakers at a once-in-a-generation festival in the otherwise tame town of Vevey. Fête des Vignerons is a parade of Swiss viticulture wisdom complete with cows, costumes and carousing.

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