Tuesday. 6/7/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Travel bug

When we interviewed Tony Blair for Monocle’s April issue, he made two predictions: that the introduction of vaccine passports was inevitable and that the EU’s slow start on coronavirus vaccinations would be forgotten by the summer. Fast-forward to July and the situation has indeed reversed – at least in part. Yes, the UK and US have vaccinated more of their populations and are closer to fully opening domestically than many EU nations – but they’ve been frustratingly slow off the mark compared to the EU when it comes to relaunching travel.

Just look at the difference in transatlantic jaunts; Americans are now free to travel to much of Europe but not vice versa (a lack of reciprocation that feels more Trumpian than Biden-like), while UK-US travel is mostly barred in either direction. The aviation route from London to New York, one of the world’s busiest, remains mothballed – even if you’re fully vaccinated. Promises that vaccine passports will be introduced and the transatlantic corridor reopened in “late summer” remain frustratingly vague, even though nearly all of the EU introduced vaccine passports this month.

I write this not as a personal complaint – as an American citizen I can travel to the US freely and without quarantine (Americans abroad can’t possibly have coronavirus, can they?) – but because so much of this still flies in the face of common sense. Domestically, countries are returning to relative normality: sports stadiums are being filled on either side of the Atlantic (last week I attended Wimbledon at near-full capacity, only needing a negative test), despite the fact that the much-ballyhooed Delta variant continues to spread in both nations. It’s a sign that we’re accepting a certain amount of risk that we probably wouldn’t have welcomed eight months ago. And yet we’re still overly cautious on travel? Even for the doubly vaccinated? Something just doesn’t add up.

Business / Spain

Train teaser

Spain’s first private high-speed rail operator, Intermodalidad de Levante (Ilsa), is close to receiving from Hitachi Rail Europe the first of 23 new ETR 1000 trains (pictured). A consortium between Spanish airline Air Nostrum and Italian train operator Trenitalia, Ilsa hopes to start running services between Spain’s biggest cities next spring. The new model, currently under construction in the Italian city of Pistoia, is an updated version of Europe’s fastest train, Hitachi’s Frecciarossa 1000, which has been operated in Italy by Trenitalia since 2015. Not only will the newest trains reach speeds of up to 360km per hour but they’re supposedly Europe’s most sustainable, thanks to an innovative aerodynamic design and an almost fully recyclable build. To be a serious rival to budget airlines (and to maximise their positive effect on the environment), these trains will need to be quick and affordable. It remains to be seen whether that will be the case but the delivery shows that high-speed rail competition in Europe is gathering steam.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Poland

Back on the stump

Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, has made a sudden return to Polish politics. On Saturday, Tusk was elected leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, which hopes to dethrone the right-wing Law and Justice party in parliamentary elections in 2023. Tusk (pictured), who served as the country’s prime minister for seven years, is reigniting a decades-long and deeply personal political rivalry with prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński that reflects broader tensions between pro-European and conservative social values in Poland.

“The divide is quite strong: there’s Poland A and there’s Poland B,” Joanna Plucinska, a political journalist for Reuters in Warsaw, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing*. Whether Tusk offers a fresh perspective is yet to be shown. “There was a sense that Civic Platform wasn’t serving voters [when Tusk left in 2014],” adds Plucinska. “That’s why there was this wave of populism. There’s doubt as to whether Tusk can bring about real change.”

Image: Alamy

Culture / Italy

Fond farewell

Italy lost a national treasure yesterday as singer-cum-dancer-cum-presenter extraordinaire Raffaella Carrà died at the age of 78. With her trademark blonde bob and broad smile, Carrà (pictured) had defined pop stardom in Italy since her big break in the 1970s as co-host of Saturday-night TV staple TV show Canzonissima. Catchy tunes followed over the years, many of which were playfully sexy and poked at the boundaries of propriety in Italy, from “Tuca Tuca” to “A Far L’Amore Comincia Tu” (famously reworked in a memorable scene from Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty). Carrà’s fabulously glamorous outfits, energetic choreography and joyful and frank attitude also saw her become an international gay icon. Italians will remember her as an energetic presence on TV and a provocateur who became a beloved household name.

Image: Shutterstock

Tourism / Mongolia

Khaan opener

Mongolia is open for tourism – and trade – with a bit of help from Japan. On Sunday the former’s president, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa (pictured), and Japan’s ambassador were on hand to cut the ribbon at the opening of the new Chinggis Khaan International airport, 50km southwest of the capital Ulaanbaatar. The terminal was built with Japanese government support and is being run as a joint venture between the Mongolian government and a Japanese consortium including Mitsubishi Corporation, Narita International Airport Corporation and Japan Airport Terminal Company, which manages the terminals at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Chinggis Khaan has a larger runway than its predecessor and can carry two million passengers, allowing for more routes to open up. Tourism in Mongolia is still developing but Japan is an important trading partner, with cashmere and knitwear going out and cars, trucks and rice coming in. The Japanese are set to run operations for the next 15 years; it will be interesting to see how their reputation for efficiency and top F&B translate to a new setting.

Image: Alamy

M24 / The Urbanist

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Monocle’s Henry Rees-Sheridan takes a closer look at the forces behind New York’s newest park.

Monocle Films / Entertaining

Tokyo 2021: on top of their games

This year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are unlike any that have come before. In the run up to the event, we met the designers, planners and people behind the scenes.

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