Friday. 2/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Wishful drinking

If you’re in Europe right now, you’ve probably been experiencing one of those mini heatwaves that signals the start of spring. True, the Celsius dial will likely plummet next week but it brought a much-needed feeling of positivity and better times to come. What is it about sunshine and fewer layers that makes you want to uncork something crisp and have a drink (responsibly, of course)? All of which is why the news delivered by French prime minister Jean Castex yesterday was such a blow. As he was fleshing out the details of France’s third national lockdown he also made it clear that the consumption of alcohol was to be forbidden in all public places. In one fell swoop, the French were condemned to drinking in the confines of their homes – no bad thing for those lucky enough to have a terrace or a balcony but a harder pill to swallow for others living in snugger spaces.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t to make light of the situation. France is experiencing a serious spike in infections that is putting a strain on hospital intensive-care units. But the restrictions on outdoor boozing are in marked contrast to where I write this from, in Milan. We’re meant to be on the toughest restriction possible here too, of course: out and about solely for work, health or “necessity” (the last a slightly grey area) – although a daily passeggiata [stroll] is permitted. But what about hanging out in the park and drinking a €4.50 Aperol spritz sold by a trailer vendor parked up on the edge of the green space? No one seems to be paying much attention.

All of this might simply reflect Italians’ levels of compliance (or lack of) – or of the authorities’ reluctance to crack down. But small little outdoor liberties do feel good. Yes there are some people who need to be chided into acting a little more responsibly (teenagers meeting in huge numbers, I’m looking at you) but surely we can still allow the French to enjoy an alfresco tipple to welcome the warmer climes.

Trade / Pakistan & India

Sweeten the deal

Pakistan has lifted a ban on sugar and cotton imports from India, the first step in ending the blanket ban on goods imports imposed in 2019, after New Delhi revoked the special status of its portion of the long-disputed Kashmir region claimed by both countries. Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Council will now allow the private sector to import 500,000 tonnes of white sugar as well as imports of cotton and cotton yarns. “If opening trade with one country lessens the burden on the pocket of an ordinary person, there is no harm in it,” Pakistan’s finance minister Hammad Azhar said in a news conference. The move could mark a potential step towards better trade and diplomatic relations between the historic rivals or at least an acknowledgement of the reality that the trade embargo was doing Pakistan more harm than good – and wasn’t about to change either country’s mind on a dispute as intractable as Kashmir.

Politics / Slovakia

Trading places

One month into Slovakia’s political crisis, an end is now in sight. Prime minister Igor Matovič has agreed to drop his previous conditions for resigning and offered to swap posts with finance minister Eduard Heger (pictured, on right, with Matovič). The crisis erupted when a secret order for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine came to light, ahead of the EU’s authorisation of the coronavirus vaccine and without the knowledge of Matovič’s coalition partners.

Now Heger, a 44-year-old trained economist, has been officially tasked with forming a government and coalition partners say they are ready for talks. But will a switcheroo of cabinet posts really bring about change? “The new prime minister is from the same party as Matovič and quite conservative,” Lukáš Onderčanin, a journalist for Slovakia’s Denník SME newspaper, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “It will be interesting to see how much influence the former PM will still have and whether this new leader is just a puppet.”

Transport / USA

Flights of fancy

It's fair to say that US airports are not the best at making air travel an enjoyable experience for passengers. This often starts before you even arrive at the terminal: many are virtually impossible to reach without a car. And once you go through security, there’s a limited selection of amenities – particularly when compared with counterparts in Europe or Asia. Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, unveiled this week, is a mammoth $2trn (€1.7trn) undertaking that will take place over eight years and a small portion of that – $25bn (€21bn) – will go to upgrading aviation. That includes updates to air traffic control, terminal renovations and investments in “affordable, convenient, car-free access to air travel”. The ambition is to make the US a global leader – or at least to rise up the aviation-infrastructure rankings. “No US airports rank in the top 25 of airports worldwide,” the Biden administration notes in the plan. Addressing chronic underfunding is a good place to start.

Media / Global

Present and correct

Two truths and a lie: today is April 2, it is International Fact-Checking Day and The Monocle Minute undergoes no checks for accuracy. We’ll leave our loyal readers to work that one out. The fact is that every word in our roster of newsletters – and magazines and newspapers and books – is pored over by a team of fact-checkers who do their utmost to make sure that everything we put out is verifiably correct. This means sending emails, phoning people, cross-checking information with different reports and checking (and double-checking) the dependability of our sources. It’s a meaty task but should be an integral part of any reputable news provider; you only need to witness the misinformation surrounding coronavirus to know that falsehoods can cost lives. As for what you can do as a reader, the best thing is to read widely, approach your news with scepticism and subscribe to media brands you trust. We hope to continue making your list.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Extra: ‘After The Australian Ugliness’

Editor Naomi Stead takes us through her new title, a contemporary response to Australian architect Robin Boyd’s seminal text that was published in 1960.

Monocle Films / Netherlands

All around the table: hideaway in the Netherlands

Nestled in a national park near Dalfsen, Lemelerberg Lodge is the place to slow down from a busy lifestyle. Co-founders Marianne Maat and Lucienne Dunnewijk show us how to create a sense of welcome with soft lighting, natural materials and their handmade wares.

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