Tuesday 25 April 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 25/4/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Audio Visual Designs/Leo Caloia

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Direction of travel

Last week I needed to travel from one corner of a southern American state to another. It would have been a short hop by plane but the tickets were wildly overpriced so I decided to take the journey through the mountains on a Greyhound bus – that evocative symbol of going “on the road”, immortalised in song, cinema and literature. The reality was far less romantic. We set off late, the atmosphere at the station was nervy and the tired bus interiors were in need of a good sweep.

Fifty years ago, Greyhound buses were a stately and eye-catching way to travel. There’s a clear market for a modern interstate road service that operates with comfort and style, especially as domestic air travel is costly and fraught with delays. Once I was amid the forested peaks, the appeal of the Greyhound soon made sense: passengers could take in the view without having to keep their eyes on the road. The US needs to find ways of getting around that match the grandeur of the landscape outside the window.

There are seeds of a rail revival on the country’s west coast: a start-up called Dreamstar Lines plans to introduce a high-end sleeper-train service that will ride the rails between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s inspired by the historic Lark train (pictured), which closed in 1968: think proper dinners and hot showers onboard, a cocktail or two and an arrival time of 08.00 the next morning, rolling passengers into the station ready for business. A senior source at Dreamstar tells me that it is negotiating agreements to use existing tracks with a plan to be rail-ready by the summer of 2024. It sounds ambitious. But as the US is poised to invest $108bn (€98bn) in its public transport as part of Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, past glories might offer some direction.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images


Up in arms

This week, Australia released a defence review signalling its biggest strategy shake-up in decades. The 110-page report, commissioned by prime minister Anthony Albanese’s government, calls for Australia to accelerate its acquisition of long-range strike missiles and build up a greater domestic munitions-making capability. Implementing the plan will cost an estimated AUS$19bn (€11.5bn). Having historically relied on its geographical isolation and US support to avoid conflict, the country has committed to arm itself against growing threats in the region – in particular, China’s increased military presence in the Indo-Pacific. “There is concern about Beijing’s aggressive posture, and its military and economic impact,” Australian political journalist Karen Middleton tells The Monocle Minute. “The strategic review is very careful in the way that it characterises the threat but the change in posture from previous years [reflects] the need to defend the Australian mainland and islands. I haven’t counted the number of times that the word ‘urgent’ is used in the review – but it’s a lot.”

For more analysis of Australia’s defence overhaul, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Briefing’.

Image: Reuters


Changing tide

On Sunday, Paraguayans will vote in a heavily polarised presidential election. The choice is between the right-wing governing party’s Santiago Peña and the centre-left opposition leader Efraín Alegre (pictured). It will be Alegre’s third run at the presidency; to win, he will need to rally support from across the political spectrum. According to polls, it’s a neck-and-neck race. The election will be a test for the Partido Colorado, which, though beset by corruption scandals, has held the presidency since 1948 (with a short interruption between 2008 and 2013).

The results could also affect one of the country’s long-standing diplomatic alliances: Paraguay is Taiwan’s last remaining ally in South America. While a Peña victory would maintain the diplomatic status quo, Alegre pledges to shift allegiances to Beijing. He claims that this will boost the economy, leading to a rise in soy and beef exports to the Chinese mainland. Following Honduras’s announcement in April that it will sever ties with Taiwan in favour of those with China, a win for Alegre would complete Beijing’s diplomatic victory in the region.

Image: Getty Images


Golden opportunity

Japanese travellers are preparing for Golden Week, the country’s big spring holiday, which begins this Saturday. A weak yen and increased fuel surcharges are stopping some people from journeying overseas but domestic flights are soaring once again. According to a recent survey by travel agency JTB, 24.5 million people are expected to make a trip within the country during the holiday period, the highest number since 2000.

Meanwhile, Japan’s international tourism sector is rebounding. Between January and March, 4.79 million foreign visitors came to the country and economic consulting firm Nomura Research Institute has predicted that monthly numbers will reach pre-pandemic levels by August. The low yen is helping to attract tourists and, from next month, the last of the coronavirus hurdles will be removed. The challenge now is to encourage travellers to venture further into the countryside and dig deeper into their wallets.

Image: Måns Berg


High-water mark

As our cities grow and weather patterns become trickier to predict, many are looking for canny ways to redirect rainwater and prevent flooding. One solution is a stormwater pond such as the one that has recently opened in Exercisfältet, a nature reserve in the Swedish city of Uppsala.

The pond, designed by White Arkitekter, offers flood protection for the surrounding area but is also an attractive space to meet and mingle in nature. Timber paths take you close to the water and there are south-facing seating areas for those who want to linger. Meanwhile, hardy plants along the banks help to filter and purify the water for wildlife. “This waterscape can be an example of what landscape architecture should focus on in the future,” Charlotta Råsmark, lead landscape architect at White Arkitekter, tells The Monocle Minute. “It [meets] new technological requirements for climate change adaptation and at the same time creates a social space for people to enjoy.”

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

Milan Design Week

We meet experimental and independent designers showcasing at Alcova. Plus: the collaborators behind the “Bar Flora” installation share their collection, which utilises Venetian glassblowing techniques.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.


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