Tuesday. 16/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Is the end within reach?

Yesterday morning I made a break for the border – the Swiss-Austrian frontier to be precise. Having broken a personal record for staying within the confines of a single country for the longest period in 40 years, crossing into the Republic of Austria at the Au village border post was both a letdown (they didn’t even bother to check passports for the fun of it!) and a relief (Schengen is up and running again and life is back to normal).

Things got a bit more interesting by the time I arrived in the Bregenzerwald region and sat down for lunch. While Switzerland is still sticking with its 2 metre distance rule (let’s see what the country’s Federal Council says on 24 June), Austria’s 1 metre guidance has all but collapsed and Germany’s 1.5 metre rule is more of a bureaucratic technicality than anything else. As trains and passenger aircraft start criss-crossing borders again, Europe will need to swiftly find some type of harmony when it comes to handling health protocols – if for no other reason than to reassure travellers while also keeping heads cool.

With some corners of Europe resisting the call to voluntarily don masks (the city of Zürich is definitely holding out), legal observers see a bigger problem given that large-scale protests have been allowed to go ahead with zero physical distancing. “It’s going to be tough to impose pandemic-specific hygiene fines on retailers and café owners when they’ve already set a precedent by allowing large groups to gather,” said one Swiss lawmaker. “I think we’ll just see the distancing issue organically disappear.”

Elections / Japan

Independent challenge

It comes as little surprise that Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike (pictured) has announced that she will seek re-election next month and, although her tenure has not been without its controversies, she remains the clear frontrunner. The former TV news anchor was elected the city’s first female governor in 2016 and has been among Japan’s most high-profile politicians during the coronavirus pandemic. Praised for her clear communication, she pushed hard for a lockdown in Tokyo in March, while prime minister Shinzo Abe – a longtime rival – hesitated. “Businesses are hurting,” said Koike at a press conference announcing her candidacy. “Tokyo is the driver of the Japanese economy and we have to bring it back to a healthy state.” Once touted as a future party leader, she now has a fractious relationship with the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) and will again run as an independent – though the LDP has been wise not to name a candidate to stand against her.

Politics / Ireland

Magic number

Months of political uncertainty in Ireland came to an end yesterday as the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green party struck a deal to form a coalition government. A general election in February left the country’s politics in turmoil as the nationalist Sinn Féin made major gains, leaving no party with a majority. Coalition talks were then further disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The three-way coalition will see Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin (both pictured, Martin on left) rotate being taoiseach (head of the government), with Martin set to be in place until December 2022. The deal still has to be endorsed by the respective parties’ parliamentary teams before being put to party members for approval. If passed, the 100-page programme will prioritise addressing the economic and social fallout of the pandemic, and put a strong focus on combating climate change and other green issues – for the Emerald Isle, that’s fitting.

Transport / USA

Streets ahead

It might seem obvious that commuting along leafy streets with generous footpaths and bike lanes can significantly improve our wellbeing – but researchers at the University of Minnesota have been busy backing up this assertion with data. Their year-long study mapped the real-time emotional responses of 398 Minneapolis-Saint Paul locals as they cycled, drove and walked across nearly every street in the Twin Cities. Their findings showed that the most pedestrian and bike-friendly streets – ones with good lighting and verdant trees, for instance – resulted in higher levels of commuter happiness, emphasising that such elements are just as important as free-flowing traffic in ensuring that people enjoy time spent travelling. The researchers hope that their work encourages officials to direct investment to the streets that are most in need of a friendly facelift. We hope the study inspires other cities to rethink their streetscapes – or at least to launch their own transportation-happiness studies.

Culture / Global

Book learning

Bookshops in the UK reopened their doors yesterday and, if recent bestseller charts are any indication, they might have a hard time keeping books by black writers on their shelves. Last week authors Bernardine Evaristo and Reni Eddo-Lodge (pictured) became the first black British women to top the UK genre charts for fiction and non-fiction paperback, respectively. The New York Times’s non-fiction list, meanwhile, was filled with books about race as readers seek to educate themselves on racism. “On one hand, we’re really excited about this massive change in interest in our stories and our lives,” Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher of Dialogue Books, told The Globalist. “But on the other hand, it’s really perplexing that only in 2020 are people understanding that our stories – and black lives – are important. It’s not just that people want to buy black stories, they’re also realising how great they are. They’ve got an entire cannon that they’ve missed out.”

M24 / Meet the Writers

Witold Szablowski

What do dictators have in common? Apparently, however bloody their regime, in the end they just want to eat food that reminds them of their mothers. Award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szablowski went to meet the chefs who cooked for some of the world’s worst tyrants. He tells Georgina Godwin all about his book How To Feed A Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks.

Film / London

Entrepreneurs: The Nunhead Gardener

Monocle Films heads to the leafy suburbs of southeast London, where entrepreneurs Peter Milne and Alex Beltran have given up their corporate jobs to set up a charming garden centre.

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