An incongruous case of wine found on a Tuscan street has led to the breakup of a ring of high-end-wine counterfeiters. Authorities surmised that the faux Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri literally “fell off a truck,” introducing a pleasing new variant to the expression’s familiar colloquial meaning. The surprise discovery by two officers from the Guardia di Fiananza (Financial Police) in Empoli, just outside Florence, proved especially felicitous, as two mobile-phone numbers were helpfully included in a note found with the wine. E, presto!: the subsequent investigation led to the confiscation of 4,200 bottles of the ersatz Sassicaia Bolgheri, which, according to the police, would have been worth nearly half a million dollars on the street, as it were. Authorities say the plonk, for which customers in China, Korea, and Russia had already placed orders totaling about 1,000 cases, had an actual provenance of Sicily (the wine), Turkey (the bottles), and Bulgaria (the labels and packaging). In any event, it probably needs to breathe a little.
In a perfect universe, some would maintain, googling “burberry for dogs” would yield absolutely nothing. As would, say, typing in “ralph lauren dog fashion.” But this is not a perfect universe, and it doesn’t take long for the first search to lead you to Thomas Burberry–monogrammed dog hoodies, and the second, perhaps inevitably, to “The Pup Shop.” Hound couture is nothing new, but the advent of canine influencers on social media suggests that we’ve finally jumped the Shar-Pei. Indeed, The Guardian reports: “‘Anthropomorphism trends in the UK pet market have never been more apparent than in 2020,’ says Mark Waddy, the director of MTW Research,” who goes on to cite doggy ice cream, doggy perfume, and possibly also doggy beer and doggy wine—it’s not certain, because it was right around this point that we entered a fugue state.
All that glitters is not good: a study conducted by Anglia Ruskin University and published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials has determined that, unfortunately, biodegradable M.R.C. “eco glitter” is pretty much exactly as harmful as the common PET (plastic) glitter used in cosmetics, cards, wrapping, and so forth. Research comparing PET and M.R.C. conducted in freshwater habitats found that: 1. “The root length of common duckweed (Lemna minor) and phytoplankton biomass (based on chlorophyll content) were significantly reduced by exposure to any type of glitter.” (Bad.) 2. “Organic matter content of sediment did not differ amongst any of the treatments.” (Discouraging.) 3. “There was a two-fold increase in the abundance of New Zealand mud snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) in response to MRC glitter.” (Actually not good: the mud snail is considered an invasive species.) In short, “Results indicate that both conventional and alternative glitters can cause ecological impacts in aquatic ecosystems.” So, still a problem if you’re a lake or a river.
It feels as if Kim Jong Un hasn’t been much in the news lately—rumors of his death date to last spring, which seems like half a lifetime ago, and it was way back in 2019 that Donald Trump was whispering sweet nothings to the North Korean dictator. (“We fell in love.”) So it’s good to feel his presence palpable again in a new BBC documentary mini-series, The Mole: Undercover in North Korea, in which (hang on) a Danish former chef, Ulrich Larsen, infiltrates the Korean Friendship Association and reveals how the country tries to get around international sanctions. The undercover saga is credible enough to have prompted the foreign ministers of Denmark and Sweden to issue a joint statement saying they are “deeply concerned” and “have decided to task our missions to the UN with bringing the documentary to the attention of the UN Sanctions Committee. We will also raise the issue in the EU.”
For all the bizarre characters and over-the-top schemes chronicled in the documentary, it’s one that didn’t make the cut that’s drawn a lot of attention: North Korea’s reported interest in Danish bull semen. “Mr Ri, the secretary of the embassy in Stockholm, wants the mole to acquire samples of Danish beef cattle semen from various breeds, the right containers for transportation and then get it to the embassy in Stockholm [so he could] take care of getting it to Pyongyang,” Mads Brügger, The Mole’s writer and director, told The Sunday Times. “It was an absurd discussion. It’s not in the film because people would definitely think that it has to be fiction.” Not all the reviews have been favorable: North Korea gave The Mole what sounds like a thumbs-down. (“A fabrication from beginning to end.”)
During his 13th-century heyday, Genghis Khan managed to conquer much of Asia and Europe, but he seems now to have hit a wall in Nantes. Maybe, given China’s tense relationship with its ethnic Mongolian minorities, one should have seen it coming. An exhibition about the Mongolian emperor at the Château des Ducs de Bretagne history museum (a collaboration with the Inner Mongolia Museum, in Hohhot, China) was scheduled to open in February but has been put on hold following accusations of Chinese censorship. According to the Nantes museum, Chinese authorities are insisting that words such as “Empire” and “Mongol” and names like “Genghis Khan” be removed from the exhibition—somewhat constricting in a show about a Mongolian emperor named Genghis Khan. (They also asked that the exhibition name be changed, from “Sun of the Sky and the Steppes: Genghis Khan and the Birth of the Mongolian Empire” to “Chinese Steppe Culture of the World.”) Time to regroup. The museum will now try to assemble the exhibition without having to rely on loans of works from China.
Honda is the latest and largest auto manufacturer to scrap diesel cars in the U.K., following Porsche, Suzuki, and Volvo. Weakening sales and, sure, a concern for the environment—“Our worldwide environmental slogan is ‘Blue Skies For Our Children,’” according to Honda’s Web site—have apparently hastened the move. Honda will also phase out pure-petrol cars by the end of 2022, three years earlier than originally planned. Concerns about diesel fuel’s effect on the environment have increased over the years—in the U.S., for instance, bus fleets have been switching to battery-electric from diesel. And the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal, which broke in 2015—recently eight more employees were charged by German authorities, bringing the total to 19—hasn’t been good for P.R., never mind the environment.
Some good news from France: the ibex is back. Although the Pyrenean ibex has been extinct since 2000, several sub-species have survived—but not in France, where the curved-horned, nimble, gravity-defying mountain goat has been absent for more than a century. But in 2014, seven Western Spanish ibex were brought over to the French side, and since then the population has established a cloven-hoof-hold, with 70 newborns counted this year. The total population in the Pyrenees National Park is now estimated at 250, and the project continues.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for air mail