Monday. 23/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Against all odds

Politics is about confidence. If you aspire to become a politician, it’s partly because you want to make a difference but also probably because you believe in some variation of, “I alone can fix things.” All politicians, at every level of government, inevitably seek more sway and more power as a result. But I can’t say that I envy the job of US mayors.

At the US Conference of Mayors in Washington last week, municipal leaders from across the country made passionate pleas for more resources and co-operation from federal officials. They described cities on the front lines of challenges including gun violence, homelessness, drugs, immigration, chronic housing shortages and poverty. And yet mayors are typically hamstrung by higher-ups, as political dysfunction in Washington and many of the nation’s 50 state capitals grips the nation. Cleveland’s mayor, Justin Bibb, told me that Joe Biden’s administration has been far more willing to engage directly with mayors than most of his predecessors. And though the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken (pictured), gave a speech encouraging mayors to reach out and work with his department, frustration at congressional inaction – and much-needed funding being stuck at state or federal level – remained palpable.

And yet there was a surprising sense of optimism and camaraderie too. “We can do this – we’ve done it before,” Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, told attendees, after a particularly bleak description of how record overdoses from fentanyl had ravaged his city. It’s a confidence that impressed the visiting mayor of Helsinki, Juhana Vartiainen. “When I listen to these US mayors and their very powerful speeches about compassion and being together, I realise that I must try, to a far larger extent than has so far been the case, to be a values-based leader,” he told me. “That is a very useful lesson for me from the US.” Compassion in the face of seemingly impossible odds? That’s a good lesson indeed.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Brazil

Fresh start

Today, Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, embarks on his first official visit to Argentina, where he will attend a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States – a regional body that his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro abandoned for ideological reasons in 2018. Lula will also meet the president of the host nation, Alberto Fernández. Relations between Brasília and Buenos Aires were strained under Bolsonaro, who once dismissed Argentina’s leaders as “leftist bandits”.

Lula is keen to draw a line under the previous administration, both abroad and at home. Under his predecessor, deforestation in Brazil increased by 60 per cent; Lula has pledged to reverse the damage. Last week he started “deforestation raids” in the Amazon, deploying agents to drive away illegal loggers and ranchers. He clearly wants to show that Brazil can play a meaningful global role when it comes to climate change. With trips to the US and Portugal to come, his can-do attitude will serve him well.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Hong Kong

Clear skies ahead

According to the latest figures, Cathay Pacific is forecast to make an eye-watering loss of between HK$6.4bn (€755.6m) and HK$7bn (€862.2m) for the 2022 fiscal year – worse than some analysts had predicted. Though these numbers are disappointing news for the airline, key stakeholders are optimistic that things are slowly beginning to improve.

The 801,088 passengers that the airline carried last month was an increase of 769 per cent compared with December 2021. Meanwhile, the travel restrictions that arguably led to Hong Kong losing its status as an international hub have been relaxed – a result of China’s recently abandoned zero-Covid policy. The airline’s CEO, Ronald Lam, is keen to point out that Cathay Pacific is firmly on the path to recovery. That means increasing flights to and from the region, including the Chinese mainland, to 100 a day by February.

Image: Nathalie Mohadjer

Design / France

Fair trade

Interiors and furniture fair Maison & Objet wraps up today in Paris. Its organisers say that about 60,000 visitors have streamed through the doors of the trade halls at Nord Villepinte and more than half of them were French. “Eighty per cent of our sales are in France, so it’s important to speak to French people and this fair gives us a chance to do that,” says Mathilde Alexandre, communications director at Hartô, who has been staffing the Parisian brand’s booth.

“We have designers in the capital and work with French factories and resellers. This is a chance for them to come out and see the work.” It’s a reminder that while major furniture fairs such as Maison & Objet are significant business and international networking events for brands, they also serve the important function of allowing homegrown designers and makers to connect with their local market.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / ‘Antoni Tàpies’, Timothy Taylor Gallery

Mystery man

To mark the centenary of his birth, the late Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (pictured) is the subject of a solo show at London’s Timothy Taylor gallery. Born in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, Tàpies explored language, existentialism and materiality through mixed media and collages, often using humble materials such as dust, string and wood panelling. After the Second World War, he co-founded an art movement called Dau al Set that was influenced by Dada and surrealists such as Joan Miró. Later in his career, his work took on a more gestural quality, inspired by the abstract expressionists whom he encountered in New York in the 1950s.

“The work is very demanding,” Natasha Hébert, the artist’s daughter-in-law and the exhibition’s curator, tells The Monocle Minute. “He liked mystery. It gives you something to decipher. Tàpies would never offer clues as to what something might mean.” The exhibition runs until early March.

Image: Snohetta

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Holzweiler and Arclab

We visit the Holzweiler clothing shop in Copenhagen and explore the Architectural Conservation Laboratory in Singapore. Plus: we visit an exhibition in Los Angeles that examines the influence of Scandinavian design in the US.

Monocle Films / Skelleftea

Inside Sweden’s electric flight school

A new electric flight school in Sweden is inspiring a future of emission-free aviation. Monocle takes to the sky, tries out the first fully electric plane to be approved for use in Europe and hears how Skellefteå has become a hotbed of green start-ups.

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