Friday. 25/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Full steam ahead

When I was travelling across the US as a 20-year-old, I rode Greyhound buses all over Texas. I’d love to say that this was a romantic move inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road but in reality it was because insurance premiums for me to hire a car at that age were exorbitant. And more appealing options, such as fast intercity trains, were non-existent. Being something of an urbanism wonk, I passed my time on the bus daydreaming about a golden age when rail travel in the Lone Star State might be possible and even prolific. In a part of the US where the car is indisputably king, that seemed a long way from the reality.

Until earlier this month that is, when rail developer Texas Central signed a $16bn (€13.4bn) “final agreement” with Italian firm Webuild Group to construct a 236-mile (380km) high-speed line between Dallas and Houston. The proposed line (pictured) will whisk travellers between the state’s two largest cities in about 90 minutes, and Texas Central promises that it will be privately funded. With a pro-rail president dubbed “Amtrak Joe” in the White House, the developer also went so far as to put out an official statement saying that rival companies who believe the government should chip in “don’t understand how free-market capitalism works in Texas”.

This is a canny way to court public opinion: taxpayers may be sceptical in a state (and country) in which high-speed rail options remain virtually non-existent. But private firms should see the scope for growth. In pre-pandemic times, about 24,000 people travelled between Dallas and Houston every day, so there’s clearly an appetite for movement along the corridor. High-speed rail would be faster than flying – or going by car or bus. There’s no reason why investors – such as banks in Europe and Japan who have expressed interest in offering support – wouldn’t be willing to take the risk. All aboard?

Image: Getty Images

Media / Hong Kong

Press pause

Hong Kong enters a new and uncertain era after the Apple Daily newspaper released its final print edition yesterday, ending 26 years as a voice of independent journalism and one of the government’s most virulent critics. The pro-democracy tabloid announced its shutdown after the raiding of its offices and arrest of several employees last week (which came on top of the sentencing of founder Jimmy Lai earlier this year). The question is whether anyone else will take up the torch – and who the government will target next. While other media could benefit from picking up Apple Daily’s readership, they’re preparing for the worst. Pro-Beijing lawmakers are drawing up a list of other outlets they deem supportive of the opposition, from Stand News to the online news site HK01 and television station Cable TV. Still, hope remains alive as the city’s other independent voices have vowed to stay committed to uncovering the truth and holding the government to account.

Image: Alamy

Migration / Europe

Warmer welcome

Mayors have long banded together around the world to share fresh takes on global issues that their federal counterparts have been unable to agree on – most notably climate change. Could the migration challenge be next? Mayors from across Europe will gather at a summit today and tomorrow hosted in Palermo, Sicily, organised in collaboration with the German city of Potsdam.

Together, the mayors hope to take an active and unified role in finding a more humane approach to the ongoing refugee crisis, in light of the thousands of deaths every year of those trying to cross the Mediterranean. And the choice of hosts is no accident. Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando (pictured) has been a long-time leader in the effort, launching his own Palermo Charter in 2015 to abolish residency permits and encourage cities to declare themselves safe havens to asylum seekers around the world. “Where states fail, cities create solutions,” says Potsdam mayor Mike Schubert. Hear, hear.

Image: Zineb Sedira, Courtesy of the Artist and Kamel Menour, Paris

Photography / UK

Snap decisions

Like so many artists, photographers have struggled to show off their work over the past year, which makes the 25th edition of the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize all the more welcome. London’s Photographers’ Gallery opens its doors this week to display the works of the four shortlisted artists. Poulomi Basu, Alejandro Cartagena, Cao Fei and Zineb Sedira were chosen for their observations of overlooked landscapes and people in India, Mexico, China and Algeria respectively. All four reflect on political, cultural and social upheavals, both current and historical, in each of these regions. Spread over two floors of the gallery, the exhibition also questions what constitutes a photographic body of work: Sedira invites us into a replication of her living room (pictured) and Cao presents a feature-length sci-fi film alongside her display. Photography has long been able to widen horizons and reveal everyday truths about the world we live in; it’s great to see such clear-sighted work back in the public eye.

Image: Alamy

Tourism / Japan

Peak times

This week, lovers of the outdoors in Japan will have been pleased to learn that Mount Fuji will be open for climbing this summer. A group of 30 people from nearby municipalities test-climbed the peak this week to see if the routes were safe after more than a year of closure due to the pandemic and now the green light has been given. The tallest and most visited mountain in the country will officially reopen for two months from 1 July (with precautions in place). Fuji-san attracts more than 200,000 climbers every summer and its reopening is expected to accelerate a growing boom in the outdoors industry, especially climbing and camping. And with uncertainty about when borders will be open for travel, a summer outing to Fuji-san at least offers a refreshing opportunity for the Japanese to explore their own country’s nature.

Image: MATTEO CANESTRARO

M24 / Monocle on Design

Fashion special: Ferrari, Milan, Begg x Co

June is always a busy month for fashion but, after a quiet year, summer 2021 is packed. We hear from esteemed automaker Ferrari about its new clothing line, return to Men’s Fashion Week in Milan, and peek behind the factory doors of Scotland’s Begg x Co.

Monocle Films / Turkey

Building a place for culture

We visit a Kengo Kuma-designed art museum in Eskisehir that’s set to become Turkey’s new cultural hotspot.

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