Wednesday 23 August 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 23/8/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Missing link

When Spain’s national railway carrier, Renfe, announced plans to expand into Portugal last week, most of my colleagues at Monocle were stunned to learn that there wasn’t already a major train connection between the two countries. The only functioning rail link is a small regional line between the cities of Porto and Vigo at the northern end of the Iberian Peninsula. The trip takes nearly two and a half hours – not much shorter than if you made the same journey by car.

Sadly, this is a reality that many of us Portuguese have become accustomed to. After years of bureaucratic inefficiency, mismanagement at national railway Comboios de Portugal (CP) and a general lack of investment, train travel has increasingly become less viable. Successive governments from both ends of the political spectrum have pledged to revolutionise Portuguese rail but all have fallen short. The past decade has been marred by the decommissioning of regional routes and the line connecting Lisbon to Madrid, which was suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and has been put on hold ever since.

Renfe’s plans came as a surprise to many, including CP. The Spanish rail operator reportedly wants to make an initial investment of €15m to adapt part of its rolling stock to Portuguese infrastructure and expects the first connection to be up and running as early as next year. But it will be difficult for the Portuguese carrier’s coffers to keep apace. Last year it reported a net profit for the first time in its history. Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, has pledged that his government will deliver “the biggest investment in rail of the past 100 years”. Perhaps a gentle push from his neighbours was just what was needed to get this train back on track.

Carlota Rebelo is Monocle’s senior foreign correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Singapore

Poll position

On Tuesday, Singapore confirmed the three candidates who will run for president in the election on 1 September: former deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (pictured), businessman Tan Kin Lian and financier Ng Kok Song. The country has also announced that it will declare a public holiday for the occasion, making it easier for citizens to vote for their next head of state. The presidency is a largely diplomatic position with some veto powers; its occupant is also in charge of appointing the prime minister.

Three other presidential hopefuls, including George Goh, a former ambassador, were deemed ineligible to run. Singapore requires its candidates either to have held a senior civil service position or to have been the CEO of a large company for at least three years. Ethnic criteria can also be taken into consideration: Halimah Yacob, the incumbent president, was elected unopposed in 2017 after a decree that only Malay candidates could run for the role. At the time, there had not been a leader from that ethnic background since 1970. As a result of the city-state’s strict criteria, uncontested races have often taken place – but this time, the confirmation of three candidates will give voters a reason to head to the polls.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Paris

Kicked to the kerb

Friday 1 September is the deadline for Paris to phase out its rental electric scooters, known as trottinettes, after almost 90 per cent of votes cast in April’s referendum favoured a ban. Since 2018 the French capital has been overrun with e-scooters, which were initially celebrated for being an environmentally friendly alternative to cars.

The removal of the fleet has been gradual and the pace has varied by company. Dott has been collecting its scooters since July but Tier has only just begun. The unwanted stock will be donated to cities that are less hostile to the scooters, such as London, Copenhagen and Tel Aviv, as well as the greater Paris region, which hasn’t put the brakes on just yet. Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is hoping for a steady transition from e-scooter to e-bike – which should be a simple switch, given that Dott and Tier offer both forms of transport. Only time will tell whether Parisians will take to the pedals.

Technology / California

Hive minds

There’s a buzz in California’s fertile Central Valley. Israeli start-up BeeHero planted its flag in the region in 2018, equipping beekeepers with sensors that monitor the health of their hives. By the end of this year, BeeHero, which has attracted $64m (€58m) in investment, will service 350,000 hives globally. “Beekeepers once had to physically open hives to check them but, in some cases, that was too late,” says co-founder Omer Davidi, noting the alarming decline in pollinating bees in the US.

For BeeHero, it’s important that clients understand their hives’ inner workings. “Everyone who joins our team has to open a hive and look inside,” says Davidi, who helped to build the first sensor in a garage in Tel Aviv. “It’s just amazing to see how they operate.”

For more unlikely finds, insights and ideas from our global network of reporters, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue, which is out now.

Image: Julie Nymann

Art / Copenhagen

Young at art

More than 20,000 art lovers are expected to flock to Copenhagen for the start of Enter Art Fair, which opens its doors tomorrow and runs until Sunday. The largest event of its kind in Scandinavia, the fair has doubled in size since its inception. It will celebrate its fifth anniversary by hosting 88 galleries from 22 countries, showcasing the work of more than 350 artists.

“The fair’s significance lies in its ability to enrich cultural dialogue and foster artistic and commercial growth in the art world,” Julie Leopold Alf, the fair’s founder and CEO, tells The Monocle Minute. “We are excited to celebrate the milestone with an expansive showcase of diverse artistic expressions,” she says. In its dedicated Young Section space, the fair will place a special emphasis on small and emerging galleries from around the world that are less than five years old. It’s a smart move that dispels any notions of the art world’s stuffiness while providing it with a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Culture

Colson Whitehead

Over the years, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Colson Whitehead, has turned his hand to non-fiction, zombie thrillers and historical fiction. His new book, Crook Manifesto, is the second in his Harlem Trilogy, which is set on the chaotic streets of 1970s New York. Robert Bound sits down with the author to discuss this exciting new heist novel.

Monocle Films / Entertaining

Welcome to the Auberge Monocle

Monocle has so far resisted the temptation to open a hotel – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t spend time thinking about who we’d hire to oversee a renovation, run the bar or design the uniforms. With this in mind, here are the six house rules we’d strictly enforce to keep things civil and serene around the pool, in the lobby and on the balcony.


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