Friday 3 February 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 3/2/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Chris Cermak

High on the hog

Though it might be sacrilegious to write this for a media outlet with its main editorial office in the UK, I’ve never put much stock in weather predictions. Yet I found myself driving through the night to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, just to see Phil the groundhog (pictured) predict, at dawn yesterday, whether we’d have six more weeks of winter or spring would come early. I made the trip partly because I grew up loving the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day and wanted to see the annual tradition for myself. But I was also hoping, “Please let him see a shadow so I can enjoy my upcoming ski trip with plenty of snow.”

Phil is not your average weatherman. He’s the prognosticator of prognosticators, the seer of seers – a status that earned him the right to be inducted into the meteorologists’ Hall of Fame (we have halls of fame for everything here in the US) at the Weather Discovery Center this week in Punxsutawney. This, despite statistics from the National Weather Service showing that he has been right only 39 per cent of the time since the 1880s. Groundhog Day organisers scoff at such figures. Phil is right 100 per cent of the time, they insist.

Phil is big business for this town. His prediction day attracted Pennsylvania’s new governor and muted presidential candidate, Josh Shapiro, among the thousands braving the freezing temperature to celebrate this quirky tradition. As one resident of the town, Dawn, told The Monocle Minute, “There’s the Bible, there’s the flag and then there’s Phil.”

When Phil emerged from his slumber and saw his shadow, the crowd let out a collective groan. And yet, despite Phil’s pessimistic outlook on the next six weeks, I found myself appreciating the value of such community events. These days, it feels as though we’re fighting each other at every turn. I’m glad that there’s still one thing that we can complain about together: the weather.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent.

Image: Shutterstock

POLITICS / Morocco & Spain

Thaw points

Spain and Morocco have been holding two days of bilateral talks in Rabat. It is the first meeting between the two countries in eight years and both parties are keen to mark a turning point in their relations, which have long been frosty. The rapprochement is the result of Spain reversing its position on its former colony, Western Sahara, which Morocco controls despite a vocal independence movement. Spain has recently come around to Morocco’s plan to create an autonomous region.

This is one of the key topics being discussed in Rabat, alongside a push for assurances from Morocco that more will be done to stop illegal immigration into Spain’s two African enclaves, Melilla and Ceuta. Spain is taking the meeting very seriously, dispatching its prime minister, Pedro Sánchez (pictured, on left, with his Moroccan counterpart, Aziz Akhannouch), and more than 10 ministers. There are economic incentives that go beyond all the talk of migration. Last year, Spain was Morocco’s most important trading partner. It’s a relationship that Sánchez clearly wants to nurture.

Image: Shutterstock


Flying start

After a three-year tourism slump, Hong Kong is bouncing back by offering free flights to potential visitors. The ticket giveaway is part of a HK$2bn (€2.3bn) campaign called “Hello Hong Kong”, designed to reboot the city’s image as an appealing post-pandemic destination. Starting in March, the scheme will hand out about 500,000 tickets, many of them targeted at neighbouring Asian countries. A further 80,000 tickets will be offered to the city’s residents to travel abroad.

This isn’t Hong Kong’s first flight giveaway: its Airport Authority offered 60,000 tickets to vaccinated residents in 2021. The body purchased the tickets from the territory’s home-based airlines at the height of the pandemic to help the struggling sector. Tourism was previously one of Hong Kong’s four so-called “pillar industries” that powered its economic growth. After three years of zero-Covid policies, it remains to be seen whether 500,000 free flight tickets will be enough to get tourism in the city fully off the ground again.

Image: Shutterstock


Shifting allegiances

Chad inaugurated an embassy in Israel yesterday during a two-day visit by the country’s president, Mahamat Déby. Chad severed ties with Israel in 1972 in solidarity with Palestine but a new era of co-operation began in 2018 under Déby’s father and former president, Idriss. The establishment of an embassy in Ramat Gan in the Tel Aviv district marks the beginning of stronger links between Arab and Muslim countries and Israel, an aim of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured, on right, with Déby) despite the hardening of its stance on Palestine.

“Israel’s announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations with these countries shows that the Palestinian issue is low on its priorities and bilateral and multilateral interests are taking precedence,” Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. “This is another example of how diplomacy under Netanyahu will favour trade relations, weapons sales and upholding non-democratic governments.”

Image: Getty Images


Lost treasure

The unpublished manuscript of a play by Spanish Nobel Prize-winner José Echegaray (pictured) has been discovered unsold on the internet for just €1,600. The 1904 work belongs to collector Marta Micaela Fernández de Navarrete, who inherited it from her bookseller parents. Though she put the 1904 manuscript by the renowned mathematician, playwright and former government minister up for sale online in 2004, it attracted little attention for almost two decades.

Fernández de Navarrete didn’t quite realise what she had in her hands until an investigation by Spanish newspaper El País found that the manuscript was worth far more than she had originally thought. She has now increased her asking price to €2,200 but, with millions of Spaniards now reading about her story, we wouldn’t be surprised if she received a lot more for it.

Image: A24

MONOCLE 24 / Monocle On Culture

This year’s Oscar nominations

Robert Bound is joined by Karen Krizanovich and Fernando Augusto Pacheco to review the surprises, snubs and stars of this year’s Oscar nominations.

Monocle Films / Helsinki

Sisu: The art of Finnish fortitude

Finland is a swimmer’s paradise and residents take to the water year-round. In colder months the practice often involves carving a hole into ice – a demonstration of sisu, the unique Finnish concept of fortitude in the face of adversity. Monocle joins journalist Katja Pantzar on an icy dip, to explore the mindset that dates back more than 500 years. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, available now from The Monocle Shop.


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