Sunday 6 March 2022 – The Monocle Minute

Sunday 6 March 2022 – The Monocle Minute


From a distance

Let’s start by spooling the tape back two weeks, to a time when warnings about being on the brink of war were widely dismissed, Canadian truckers were international headline grabbers and the coronavirus ticker was still keeping a few journos busy in newsrooms.

Ottawa: I’ve come to visit my 103-year-old grandmother from the Estonian side of the family, aunts and uncles, and my friend Mark. When I pull up at uncle Vil and aunt Louise’s house, they’re glued to the TV watching the “breaking news” story of the Ottawa police (and reinforcements) pushing back truckers and affiliated protesters. It’s such a muted, polite and dull affair that it’s a good thing it’s winding down on its own, as in a little over 96 hours it will have been forced from the screens by a bigger global event.

Toronto: It’s been four years since I last visited my former hometown and it’s much the same as I left it, save for more ugly, colossal condo towers and unused cycle lanes. Why have lanes for bikes in the winter when no one uses them and the snow needs somewhere to go? Overall, Canada feels a little coronavirus 0.5 and a bit behind the rest of the world in lifting measures. This too is about to vanish as a topic of daily concern.

Miami: Welcome to the land that ignored the pandemic and has powered ahead. The city and its suburbs are hopping with Brazilians, Colombians, Germans, Canadians, Californians and, of course, New Yorkers. I check into The Surf Club, listen in to the accents ricocheting around Bal Harbour, visit the compound of a friend who has done rather well in the music industry and soak up the sunny energy of the place. Miami’s never been a favourite but 18 hours is too short a time and there’s more to see. Perhaps a larger Monocle contingent will return soon.

The skies have turned heavy to match the mood. I can’t stop following multiple tickers on my phone. I need to catch my flight to LAX.

Dallas: The pilot on our American 777 tells us that a big storm is about to hit but we should touch down before it gets too bad. When we land, Dallas looks like London on a good day: light wind and a chilly drizzle. Nevertheless, schools have closed, businesses have shuttered early and the streets are starting to empty. I make my way to private members’ club Park House for a meeting and it’s rammed with Dallas businessmen enjoying the early start of cocktail hour. Shortly after, I’m on the top floor of The National dining with a fun bunch of locals and there’s still no sign of the storm. Back out on the street there’s a bit of freezing rain – hardly conditions that demand a weather warning. A few minutes later I check into my room, switch on the TV and the screen is lit up with a breaking-news banner: “UKRAINE UNDER ATTACK.” The storm arrived after all. The following morning, Dallas is under the thinnest sheet of ice and the city is deserted. After a night of watching the news and emailing with London I want some life, buzz and morning rush hour. My fast friend Kristie picks me up, we tour the architecturally underrated Northpark Mall (more on this in an upcoming issue) and we’re both feeling a little drained and sad. The skies have turned heavy to match the mood. I can’t stop following multiple tickers on my phone. I need to catch my flight to LAX.

Los Angeles: The city is sunny yet chilly and I make my way to Monocle’s base in Culver City. It’s been a little over two years since I’ve paid a visit. It suddenly feels as though it’s an odd time to launch a book on the Nordics but we press ahead and the evening is a hit. Many Angelenos haven’t been out at an event for two years and much of the conversation centres around “how did we get here?” and “what’s going to happen?” I try my best to enjoy the next two days but have trouble leaving the room as I flip between CNN and the BBC. Los Angeles feels bright and back on form, but look a bit closer and almost every block has three or four vacant shops and crime continues to surge. During an easy lunch with my friend Hanna, a man is pulled from his car and pistol-whipped for his watch – at 15.00 on a sunny Friday afternoon – 100 metres from where we’re sitting. He manages to fight them off and escapes with light head injuries. An awful incident for sure but all rather petty compared to what’s unfolding on my phone screen. LA is not without its high points, however. I got to dine with Miss Japan, had a solid hour to talk about the state of newsgathering with my friend Marc, stocked up on plenty of good titles at Book Soup, enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the super cute Bravo Toast and sat in the car wondering why we don’t have grocery stores like Erewhon’s Silver Lake branch in Zürich – or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.

Swiss flight LX 41 LAX-ZRH: The maître de cabine in charge of the flight is a seasoned pro and has weathered many conflicts and their impact on aviation. He predicts that all air space is going to close over Russia to most Western aircraft and that Europe will do the same. How right he is. As we make our way eastward, Ukraine eventually shows up on the map. Munich, Vienna, Warsaw and Venice are so close to Kyiv.

Zürich: Back at base, surrounded by the European dailies, it’s immediately palpable how far the conflict is from the Americas. I’m reminded of the questions from the party a few nights earlier. How did we get here? Could it be that governments and Western media have spent a bit too much time covering niche issues and political forces, and too little on intelligence-gathering, proper analysis and being out in the field?

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