Welcome to this first edition of AIR MAIL. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles we plan for it in the months ahead. But as a general roadmap of where we plan on going, it will have to do. Our goal is to provide you with a jaunty, entertaining, but also serious weekend edition, delivered to your in-box every Saturday morning at six o’clock New York time.
AIR MAIL will focus on subjects both foreign and domestic and regularly cover politics and the environment, art and literature, film and television, food, design, architecture, theater, society, fashion, and high-end crime. This coverage will include superb writing by some of the world’s finest journalists, and they will treat these subjects with sophistication, authority, and wit.
We aim to surprise you. Perhaps you didn’t know that Italian women don’t like Elena Ferrante. From Turin, Andrea Lee explains why. Apollo 11 isn’t only notable for the lunar landing—Emily Ludolph reveals how that hallowed mission helped spark a souvenir scandal that embarrassed NASA and its astronauts. Harvey Weinstein is a monster certainly, but theater critic John Lahr explains why London theater-goers are nevertheless enjoying David Mamet’s widely panned play based on the disgraced movie mogul.
We will scan the international press you’re probably not reading on a daily basis and deliver the gems we discover every Saturday morning. Today, for example, on the eve of a parliamentary election that will likely make Boris Johnson the next British prime minister, his sister, Rachel, talks about the Norland nanny who taught the Johnson children manners—though some would argue that, in his case, the nanny should have finished the job.
We have also selected the best cultural events in major cities across the globe and put them into a searchable arts calendar called the Arts Intel Report (AIR). Let’s say you want to be in Vienna in September and you love Dürer and the opera. Simply type the keywords “Vienna,” “Dürer,” “opera,” and “September,” and AIR will list prominent exhibitions of the artist’s work as well as operas of special interest. It’s fun, but you may also find it indispensable: there is no other calendar quite like it on the Internet.
Two subjects we plan to cover with some rigor are the environmental dangers facing the world and the resurgence of right-wing nationalism and its threat to liberal democracy. Nationalism and extreme populism—once fringe elements of Continental politics—have forced themselves onto center stage across Europe. It could be fairly said that Europe is in a 1930s state of mind. The slowing of the global economy and the ongoing surge of migrants will continue to kindle resentments that lead to political insurrection and all manner of isms, including nationalism, Fascism, and Nazism. Some things never change. In Italy, Mussolini’s granddaughter is one of the main attractions in an organized tour of Fascist landmarks all across the country.
It could be fairly said that Europe is in a 1930s state of mind.
It could also be fairly said that America is in a 1950s state of mind. I’m not thinking here of the 50s of poodle skirts, kidney-shaped pools, and Tab Hunter—more like the noir-ish 50s of bomb shelters, loyalty oaths, and Philip K. Dick novels. Dystopia is ripe in fiction, television, and film. We have returned to back-alley skirmishes with our old Cold War arch-nemesis, Russia, where a nostalgic appetite for surface elements of the Soviet era is rampant.
We are not going to obsess about Washington, but we won’t ignore it entirely. Again, harking back to the post-War 50s, we have a president who thinks steel and coal should be our primary exports—this while the Chinese are mining the resource of the future: data, much of it ours. There is also talk of McCarthyism. The mind-twisting thing here is that it is being uttered by the president, a man who was schooled in the fine arts of witch-hunting, backstabbing, and character assassination by the late Roy Cohn, the Mini-Me to Senator Joe McCarthy’s Dr. Evil.
The Chinese are mining the resource of the future: data, much of it ours.
You almost have to hand it to the current president. He has erected an administration so idiotic and jerry-rigged that it would confound Lewis Carroll and Heath Robinson—or they might just look on with admiration. He has surrounded himself with the sort of cartoon bootlickers and yes-men who for years populated the Trump Organization. Indeed, there are more people in “acting” positions in the current administration than were at MGM during its heyday. So many Cabinet-level officials have departed the Trump White House that it’s beginning to resemble a microcosm of the gig economy.
The president’s traveling companions to the dark havens of Third World dictators are not seasoned diplomats but the hood ornaments of his flotilla, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared—the Barbie and Ken of international relations. You could imagine them hosting a morning television program in a minor market. (For that matter, you could imagine the president himself being the bellowing 6:00 local television news anchor in a minor market.) But to see the three of them strutting on the world stage is a sight that causes professional diplomats to blanch (not to mention other world leaders). Where do you turn in this political climate? Do you look to the venal, racist mandarins on the political right for your North Star? Or the intolerant, prickly nitpickers on the left? If you’re confused by all of this, you’re not alone.