Thursday. 17/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Mary Fitzgerald

Causes célèbres

The first round of France’s presidential election is just under two months away but you’d hardly know it in the country’s south. On a recent trip from Marseille to Nice, I saw few election posters and only one candidate on the campaign trail: Marine Le Pen of the far-right Rassemblement National (RN), the party formerly known as the National Front.

With polls suggesting that Le Pen (pictured) could face incumbent Emmanuel Macron in a second-round run-off, as she did in 2017, she appeared confident when we met in Toulon, the third-largest city in a region that has long been an RN stronghold. I asked her whether she feared Éric Zemmour, the far-right provocateur and TV pundit with several convictions for inciting racial hatred who is courting her base. She laughed it off. But later that day, in front of hundreds in the town of Vallauris, Le Pen gave a speech that was mostly a hardline rant against immigration. Though few think that Zemmour stands a chance in this election, his rhetoric is clearly shaping the wider conversation.

Even Valérie Pécresse of the conservative Les Républicains party borrowed from Zemmour’s messaging in her first major speech this week. To the surprise of many, Pécresse referred to the “great replacement”: a conspiracy theory key to Zemmour’s campaign claiming that a white Christian majority in France is being “replaced” by non-white migrants. It portends a bleak campaign season and one that many here have little appetite for: several people I met said that they were either not going to vote at all or cast un vote blanc (a blank vote). France’s abstention rate, which has been rising in recent years, is yet another unpredictable factor in what is expected to be a volatile ballot.

Fitzgerald is a Monocle correspondent based in Marseille.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Japan

Open plan

In November, Japan tentatively reopened its borders to a limited number of foreigners – only to reverse course a few weeks later in response to the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Now it looks as though the Land of the Rising Sun is finally preparing to try again, starting with business travellers. The Japanese government is working to relax the regulations in stages from March, starting with allowing up to 5,000 visitors per day, including non-resident foreigners on business trips – but no tourists. Those who come from countries where cases of the Omicron variant have dwindled and have received a booster vaccine will be exempted from quarantine; others will have an opportunity to exit self-isolation by testing negative after three days. It remains a far more tentative approach than most but one that is in step with public sentiment, which remains wary as hospitalisations continue to rise. The government will be hoping that it doesn’t have to pull back a second time.

Image: Shutterstock

Fashion / USA & UK

Dressing up

Optimism was the prevailing mood at New York Fashion Week, from the confident uptown glamour at Michael Kors to the swishy look-at-me grandeur of Carolina Herrera (pictured). The message is clear: designers are catering for people who have money to spend and plans for big nights out. Short skirts (remember the Reagan era?), chubby faux-fur jackets with a 1990s hip-hop feel and bright cosplay colours dominated.

A “Made in America” theme was highlighted by many, in tune with an economic development project to revitalise New York’s Garment District. It’ll be a tough act to follow for London Fashion Week, which starts tomorrow, especially since one of its biggest houses, Alexander McQueen, has decided to show off-schedule next month in New York. Burberry, Victoria Beckham and Mulberry are also absent from the London schedule. The positive? The absences will make room in the spotlight for newcomers and could cement London’s reputation for innovation.

Image: Yves Bachmann

Society / EU

Have pass, will travel

DiscoverEU, a travel programme that awards free Interrail tickets to young Europeans, has increased the number on offer this year to 70,000. For the first time, it has also extended the scheme to several non-EU countries: Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Serbia, North Macedonia and Turkey. The passes allow unlimited train travel across Europe for 30 days. To apply, 18-year-olds in eligible countries must complete a quiz on European history and culture; the European Commission then selects the winners. The expansion of the programme comes after 2022 was officially designated the European Year of Youth by the EU’s executive. Opportunities for young people to explore have been thwarted in recent years and the scheme is a laudable way to help them make up for lost time. Perhaps the EU should also consider reviving a 2017 motion to give all Europeans free Interrail passes on their 18th birthday? Students, time to brush up on your European capitals and get applying.

Image: Melbourne Art Fair

Art / Australia

Restored connection

Melbourne Art Fair opens its doors today and marks the first event of its kind in Australia since the beginning of the pandemic. It joins a growing roster of shows that are finally returning to in-person editions around the world. The focus is understandably on galleries and artists from the region, with 63 participants showcased at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. “Melbourne Art Fair is committed to reconnecting the art world and to reminding people of the vibrancy that comes from great patrons seeing great work,” Peter Jopling, chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation, tells The Monocle Minute. “While there is a wonderful thing that happens in person that doesn't translate in the digital space, we are seeing a hybrid landscape emerge as a product of the pandemic, where digital and physical work together to create a richer experience.” Putting on an art fair in a country where borders have been notoriously bolt tight for months is ambitious – but it’s a welcome return nonetheless.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

PJ O’Rourke

The acclaimed journalist and political commentator, PJ O’Rourke, died this week at the age of 74. O’Rourke’s impressive career saw him write two bestsellers, A Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance. In October 2020, O’Rourke told Monocle 24’s Andrew Mueller what had shaped his own political views on this episode of The Foreign Desk. You can hear more of Mueller’s reflections on the writer on yesterday’s editions of The Briefing and The Daily.

Monocle Films / Global

‘The Monocle Book of the Nordics’

Following in the footsteps of our best-selling titles The Monocle Book of Italy and The Monocle Book of Japan, this is a thrilling exploration of Europe’s northernmost reaches. Order your copy from The Monocle Shop.

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