Wednesday. 11/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alexei Korolyov

Quick on the thaw

Two years ago I found myself at an eerily empty ski resort just south of Vienna. I was reporting a story on how the pandemic had forced Austria’s pistes to close, robbing the country of its favourite winter pastime. Austrians are generally supportive of rules but such was their indignation at the closures that there were many trespassers. The manager, who took me up the slope on a snowmobile so that we could spot the dozen or so interlopers, told me that it was a daily sight. He wasn’t too miffed, though. He was more concerned, he said, about the future of his industry.

That winter was particularly snowy and the snow cannons stood idle. This year, however, as unseasonably warm and wet weather leaves ski runs across Austria bare, those cannons will be working overtime ­– and that manager will be even more concerned. So too will be Austria’s businesses and decision-makers.

There are many examples of how rising temperatures can disrupt livelihoods, as well as tourism and business (the desiccation of Lake Neusiedl on the Austria-Hungary border, a popular sailing destination, is a recent one). The Austrian government can’t be faulted for their efforts on climate change: the Green party, part of the country’s ruling coalition, has introduced a number of groundbreaking policies, including a public-transport ticket enabling travel across the whole nation. But research shows that the Alps are warming about twice as fast as the global average, so many ski resorts might soon be unviable and the few that remain become more exclusive.

Austria might need to rethink not only its tourism sector but also, perhaps, its national identity (about a third of Austrians ski). While the warm weather persists, some managers are finding ingenious solutions: one resort in Lower Austria has already started its summer operations. People are nothing if not enterprising.

Alexei Korolyov is Monocle’s Vienna correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Canada

Jet lag

Canada has been agonising for years over replacing its fleet of antique Boeing CF-18 Hornets. This week it was confirmed that Ottawa will spend about CA$19bn (€13.2bn) on 88 US-made Lockheed Martin F-35s (pictured). It is the largest investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RACF) in more than 30 years but compared to some other nations it appears unambitious. Finland, with barely a seventh of Canada’s population and a 30th of its area, has ordered 64 F-35s, while neutral Switzerland has purchased 36. Michael Harwood, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Service Institute think-tank and a former pilot with the UK’s Royal Air Force, believes that the number is still important. “Eighty-eight F-35s feel like a serious statement from Canada,” he tells The Monocle Minute. “There are important issues being carefully considered: interoperability, the need for stealth, the ability of an air force to grow the many components necessary to operate the aircraft. And there is nothing to stop that number of 88 from changing at a later date.”

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Switzerland

Heartbreaking decision

The city of Dübendorf in the canton of Zürich wanted to put a smile on the faces of waiting pedestrians. What better way than by adding heart-shaped stencils to its red traffic lights (pictured)? Perhaps the idea was inspired by Germany, where images of everyone from Ludwig van Beethoven to Elvis Presley have appeared on traffic lights – not to mention the famous hat-wearing character the Ampelmännchen, which you’ll spot at pedestrian crossings in Berlin.

The suggestion of Raymond König, head of Dübendorf’s civil-engineering department, was relatively modest in comparison. His motto of “Dübendorf with heart” was implemented by buying six heart-shaped stencils that cost just CHF210 (€210). However, the canton’s police force was not impressed, banning the new-look red lights for manipulating signalling equipment. For the authorities, it was clearly a case of all heart and no brains.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Nigeria

All aboard

Commuting in the West African city of Lagos, the continent’s most populated metropolis, is about to change significantly. The much-anticipated Blue Line project (pictured) has just received the green light to start passenger operations. The first stage of this elevated rail system covers more than 13km, stopping at five stations and moving about 250,000 people a day. The government has already taken delivery of three sets of wagons, ready to be used by passengers.

The light rail system has been more than a decade in the making. The Nigerian government first signed off on the project in 2010 but neglect and a lack of funding had stopped it in its tracks until recently. Light rail offers a chance to develop a city in a way that leaves space for life beneath its structure. And with the second phase expected to start construction in the first quarter of this year, it’s an initiative that we can all get on board with.

Image: Taro Terasawa

Culture / Japan

Timeless classic

For an inspiring example of creative longevity, look no further than Japanese folk artist Samiro Yunoki (pictured). Now 100 years old and as busy as ever, he is being celebrated at a retrospective exhibition of his work, which opens this Friday at Tokyo’s beautiful Mingeikan (Folk Crafts Museum).

The setting is particularly appropriate since Yunoki, who was born in 1922, was initially inspired to become an artist by Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the folk craft movement and the museum. Yunoki’s vibrant, stencil-dyed textiles will be on display alongside other crafts. His career has soared in recent years, with sell-out shows and collaborations. In 2017 he was also commissioned to work on the graphics and interior of Kyoto’s Ace Hotel and a recent exhibition in Tokyo featured new printed works. Yunoki, alongside peers such as artist Yayoi Kusama, 93, and architect 94-year-old Fumihiko Maki, is proving that in Japan, age is merely a number.
mingeikan.or.jp

Image: Dan Preston

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