Monday 28 June 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 28/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Destination state

It’s take-off time at last for Brits! On Thursday the UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps unveiled moderate changes to the list of places holidaymakers may now travel to for some sun, sand and sangria (other regional drinks may be ordered). Mr Shapps, whose misplaced jolliness is fittingly reminiscent of a holiday rep, added the Balearics (pictured), Malta and Barbados to the handful of destinations for which travel does not come with a spell in quarantine – at home or in a hotel – when you get back.

While it was a welcome relief to see the inclusion of destinations that most people could actually pinpoint on a map (until now focus had been on the likes of the Falklands and St Helena), the minister once again forgot to cater for, let alone mention, another group of travellers: the business world. Although you can hardly blame Mr Shapps when, from the BBC to The Guardian, all the media chatter is about holiday flights or 10 things to do in Ibiza without getting arrested. The papers rarely mention the need to allow entrepreneurs to see investors, producers to visit clients, and conferences to happen in the real world.

Indeed, following the Shapps announcement it was hard to find anyone from business being given a voice to explain why they need to be able to hit the road. And as for showing pride in UK airlines’ attempts to stay running by actually getting on one of their aircraft? Mr Shapps repeatedly refused to say whether he would take his family to a place on his green list. This all comes as the UK is attempting to forge new post-Brexit business links, still has 1.5 million furloughed workers and many companies are struggling to get back to business as normal.

So we can only hope that next time he will attempt to put New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Milan at the top of his priority list, and stop treating the world of travel as some daft frivolity. I would imagine that his colleague Matt Hancock, caught giving a lot of lip service to coronavirus rules, may also be supportive of seeing the return of more long-haul flights, especially those to very remote places where no one can find you.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Italy

See eye to eye

US secretary of state Antony Blinken (pictured) is in Rome today for meetings with Italian officials as well as the Eternal City’s other state leader, the Pope, ahead of a foreign ministers’ summit of the G20 in the southern Italian city of Matera. None of these encounters will be straightforward. Italy has shown support for the G7’s attempts to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative with the alliterative Build Back Better World project – but foreign minister Luigi Di Maio also recently assured Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, of Italy’s continued involvement in its project. As for the Holy See, the last high-ranking US official to visit the Vatican, Mike Pompeo, was refused an audience thanks to rather frosty relations between the Roman statelet and the Trump administration. Blinken will be hoping for a more welcoming reception and, more significantly, he’ll be laying the groundwork for a possible visit later this year by Joe Biden, only the second Catholic president in US history.

Image: Alex Cretey Systermans

Retail / Europe

More in store

Reviving retail establishments that sit away from the high street will take some doing after a challenging year. But in the long term, those fashion shops that manage to embed themselves in smaller neighbourhood communities will have the best chance to survive and thrive. Take the Centre Commercial on Paris’s Rue de Marseille, which has turned its fashion outpost for international labels into a community hub.

A regular schedule of events includes book launches and cocktail parties, which have attracted new people to this once-dreary part of the French capital. “We knew that to promote it we had to give it life because very few people walked past,” owner Sébastien Kopp tells Monocle. “I like having a shop that you can visit and not buy anything. That’s a good sign. People need a place to gather and meet different people. We believe very strongly in this.”

For more inspiring profiles of independent retailers, check out the Fashion section of Monocle’s July/August Quality of Life special, on newsstands now.

Image: Getty Images

Space / Global

Soft launch

A UK firm is hoping to cash in on the post-pandemic tourism boom by offering holidays that are quite literally out of this world. The Rocketbreaks space agency opened for business this month, promising would-be astronauts flights, meals, accommodation and even the requisite training for a galactic vacation. “There’s huge demand for space tourism,” professor Nigel Henbest, the author of Stargazing 2022, tells The Monocle Minute. And it’s a lucrative business. Henbest – who has already booked his ticket to become a future astronaut with Virgin Galactic (pictured) – notes that a mystery bidder recently paid $28m (€23.5m) to join Jeff Bezos on the first crewed space flight with his company Blue Origin. “I have always been fascinated by space but most of the fellow future astronauts I’ve met are extreme explorers,” Henbest says. “These are people who have climbed Everest and trekked the Amazon.” Travel-hungry thrill seekers who want the ultimate challenge need look no further.

Image: Shutterstock

Arts / Global

Finishing touches

Crowds are returning to galleries across Europe and the US – but are the artworks ready for them? Preparing masterpieces for the public can be a herculean task and many exhibitions have grown dusty. Here, we take a look at three places that are intent on making the effort.

San Francisco’s Moma unveils its enormous new Diego Rivera mural today. Weighing in at 30 tonnes, the 6.7 metre-tall fresco was moved from San Francisco City University’s theatre by a team of engineers, riggers, architects and art historians, running up a bill in the millions of dollars. And no, they didn’t drop it.

The Medici Chapel in Florence has used the break to give some of Michelangelo’s sculptures a rather unusual scrub. Releasing special grime-eating bugs – the kind also used to remove oil spills – the experimental method has left the statues gleaming.

Jeff Koons’s enormous “Puppy” sculpture outside the Guggenheim Bilbao (pictured) is an icon of the city but its bones are feeling a bit rough (pardon the pun). A fundraising effort by the museum intends to collect donations of $100,000 (€84,000) to give this old pooch a new metal structure and prevent it from keeling over.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Checkmate: chess and politics

Sometimes art imitates life; sometimes games do too. And parallels between chess and the political arena have existed for centuries. But are there really any similarities? How was the game used as a pawn in the cold war? And could the chessboard once again become a soft-power battleground? Andrew Mueller speaks to Judit Polgar, David Edmonds, and Dana Reizniece-Ozola.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: gin distilleries

Just like craft breweries, small local distilleries are reinventing drinks that have fallen out of fashion. Monocle Films visits three entrepreneurs who have uncorked the potential of the old spirit in London, Hamburg and the Finnish countryside.


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