Tuesday. 18/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

End of the road

Few garages outside Australia have ever housed a Holden car. But this week’s formal demise of the automotive business will bring about genuine bewilderment Down Under. Holden’s long-standing US owner, General Motors, has announced that the marque will be wound up by 2021.

Holden is no ordinary brand. The Holden FX of 1948 was the first properly Australian-built car. The brand sold itself subsequently as the automotive embodiment of the nation. A 1970s Holden jingle confidently boiled the fundamentals of Australian iconography down to “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars”. When a 1980s sitcom satirised Australian suburbia, it was named after the then-ubiquitous Holden sedan: Kingswood Country.

Holden’s eternal contest with the Australian iteration of Ford was a genuine schism that descended through families (the rivalry still underpins the country’s premier motorsports competition, the Supercars Championship). That rift notwithstanding, it is hard to imagine that there is a single Australian who has not ridden in a Torana, Commodore, Monaro or Kingswood, and who will not be recalling it wistfully right now.

Elections / France

Uphill struggle

French president Emmanuel Macron was forced to quickly tap a new centrist contender for mayor of Paris after his first choice, Benjamin Griveaux, became mired in a sex-video scandal last week. Griveaux’s replacement, health minister Agnès Buzyn (pictured), comes directly from Macron’s cabinet to face incumbent socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, the pollsters’ favourite, and conservative hopeful Rachida Dati in the election that commences on 15 March. With the vote fast approaching, Buzyn is in a tricky position entering the race. She is facing criticism for abandoning her post during the spread of coronavirus (the first death in France was recorded on Saturday) and her perceived mismanagement of the nation’s hospitals has left a swathe of unresolved strikes behind her. With Macron’s approval ratings stuck at 32 per cent, the En Marche candidate has a lot of catching up to do.

Economy / Japan

Viral impact

The Japanese economy can’t catch a break. Following a controversial consumption-tax rise in October, new figures show that the economy shrank at its fastest rate for nearly six years in the last quarter of 2019. Now the International Civil Aviation Organisation is predicting that Japan could lose $1.3bn (€1.2bn) in tourism revenue between January and March, largely due to cancellations by Chinese visitors. Japan is in the early stages of a coronavirus outbreak and efforts to stop it spreading are having an impact on events where sizeable crowds might gather.

Emperor Naruhito’s birthday at the Imperial Palace on Sunday – when the newly enthroned monarch was due to greet thousands of members of the public – has been cancelled. The organisers of the Tokyo Marathon, which takes place on 1 March, have reduced numbers from 38,000 by cancelling general participation; the event will only be open to about 200 elite athletes. These are strict measures but with the Olympics on the horizon, Japan is keen to avoid any further damage.

Politics / Toronto

Common ground

When it comes to a working relationship, Toronto’s city hall and the Ontario government don’t have the smoothest history – the latter’s conservative premier, Doug Ford, and Toronto’s now-independent mayor, John Tory, have often clashed. The duo (pictured, Tory on left) squared off in Toronto’s 2014 mayoral race (when Ford infamously said he would wrap his teeth “around [Tory’s] nuts”) and clashed again four years later during Tory’s re-election campaign. Yet an unlikely collaboration between the two has now yielded a CA$30bn (€21bn) transit plan that green-lights the expansion of the city’s subway system. Key to their improved relationship and stronger ties between city and state has been the pair’s frequent off-the-record one-to-one chats. Tory explained that the pair regularly “get together without a formal agenda”. It’s a method that politicians have previously used to work past their differences (think presidents Gorbachev and Reagan) and one that more would be wise to revisit.

Music / Brazil

Hot competition

Friday marks the beginning of Carnival in Brazil and, as well as riotous celebration, this occasion will also spark bitter competition. Popstars are battling for the top spot in the charts; scoring the biggest hit during Carnival earns the same level of music-industry fanfare as landing a Christmas number one in other countries. Whoever manages the feat will be celebrated with lucrative deals and nationwide fame. Among this year’s main contenders are Ludmilla, with her controversial song “Verdinha” (an ode to marijuana), and “Amor de Que”, a catchy single by drag queen and popstar Pabllo Vittar. Also in contention are singer-songwriters Diogo Nogueira and Mahmundi, who are hoping that the more relaxed sound of their duet “Coisa Boa” will see them take the top spot. Samba might still be loved by many but brega funk is gaining popularity; watch out for “Tudo OK”, a cheeky example of the genre by Thiaguinho MT, Mila and JS O Mão de Ouro with strenuous choreography to match.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

‘Adults’ by Emma Jane Unsworth

Lucy Scholes and Susannah Butter discuss Emma Jane Unsworth’s new novel about Jenny McLaine, a thirtysomething London journalist whose addiction to social media begins to take over her life.

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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