David Hasselhoff is known for many things—Baywatch; Knight Rider; his motivational speaking; his reality show, The Hasselhoffs, whose debut and cancellation were virtually simultaneous. But the American actor-singer’s greatest claim to fame is that he is huge in Germany, and pretty much nowhere else. “There is a museum of Hasselhoff paraphernalia in Berlin, which used to own a patch of his chest hair until it was stolen by an excitable fan,” noted The Times of London recently.
Now, after decades of Teutonic adulation, he’s giving something back: “The Hoff” is appearing on social media at the behest of the German government, urging the unvaccinated to switch sides. “I found freedom with vaccination,” he declares, displaying a handy biceps. “You can, too!”
No doubt you heard that a record fell last month at the annual grave-digging competition in Siberia. A two-man team from Omsk, competing to specific dimensional requirements (i.e., coffin-size) and judged, according to The Moscow Times, not just for speed but also technique and accuracy, out-shoveled squads from Tomsk, Novosibirsk, and the Altai Republic. Team Omsk dug its grave in 38 minutes, shattering last year’s mark of 52 minutes, and took home a purse of $400.
Meanwhile, some 2,500 miles due west of the frenzied spadework, Vladimir Putin’s seldom-mentioned and even-less-seldom-seen daughters both made appearances at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Katerina Tikhonova spoke (on video) about “breakthrough technologies” for boosting investments, and Maria Vorontsova, a genetics researcher, was interviewed about rare diseases on national television, said Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The women are reportedly the progeny of Putin’s marriage to Lyudmila Putina. (The couple divorced in 2014.) “Why bring these purported daughters of Putin to such an event, and what was the point of them speaking publicly?” wondered one Carnegie Moscow Center analyst, according to R.F.E./R.L. “Maybe this is just a little drawing back of the curtain without identifying the real functions of the president’s daughters. Maybe this is a foretaste of some sort of emergence onto the big stage.”
Art scholars remain divided regarding the provenance of Salvator Mundi, the controversial painting of Jesus by Leonardo da Vinci. (Or possibly not by Leonardo da Vinci, or not very much, anyway, and certainly not entirely.) In 2005, the picture—at that point attributed to one of Leonardo’s followers—was bought by two art dealers for $1,175, underwent extensive restoration, and, after the National Gallery in London included it as a da Vinci in a 2011–12 exhibition, began trading hands as a full-blown da Vinci. It eventually brought $450 million at Christie’s in 2017, making it the most expensive painting in the world. The buyer was Prince Bader bin Abdullah, reportedly bidding on behalf of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism. But the picture hasn’t been seen since, and many assume it’s in the possession of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.
The money aside, what is Salvator Mundi, really? In a new documentary by Andreas Koefoed, The Lost Leonardo, one da Vinci expert says, “The new parts of the painting look like Leonardo, but they are by the restorer. In some parts, it’s a masterpiece by Dianne Modestini”—the conservator who worked on the painting. Modestini herself insists in the film that “no one except Leonardo could have painted this picture.”
This city’s reputation for high-quality, inexpensive suits and shirts has 19th-century roots but faces a 21st-century crisis: a drop in both tourism and demand has put Hong Kong’s renowned tailors on the endangered-species list, their numbers now estimated at fewer than 500. (In tailoring’s heyday, a single house in the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district might have featured that many.) “One of the most renowned shops — Sam’s Tailor — tucked away in an arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui, has crafted suits for former US president George H.W. Bush for several years,” reported the South China Morning Post. “Other notables he has dressed include Bill Clinton, David Bowie, Russell Crowe and Bruno Mars, and he even welcomed Italian designer Giorgio Armani to his shop.” Well, vinyl was supposed to disappear but instead found a way to thrive; maybe hand-stitched threads will follow, as it were, suit.
Good things don’t come in small packages now—they are small packages. “Analysis of prices on eBay reveals that empty watch boxes are the most valuable pieces of branded packaging being resold, followed by designer shoe boxes, paper bags and jewellery boxes,” reported The Times of London. “Rolex boxes were the most expensive with an average list price of £160 [about $225], followed by Tag Heuer, Breitling and Omega. Louis Vuitton shoe boxes were listed for an average of £74 [$100], while listings for the famous duck-egg blue Tiffany boxes tied with white ribbons averaged £51 [$70], according to a study by the price-comparison website Money.co.uk.”
O-kay. Curiously, no mental-health professionals were quoted in the piece, but a finance expert at money.co.uk told the newspaper, “At times it’s for home decor. They might have seen walk-in wardrobes filled with Chanel bags and Louis Vuitton boxes proudly on show on Pinterest. Or it could be to use them as background props for Instagram posts, replicating those posted by the rich and famous.”
Back in the universe where expensive retail packages contain actual goods, eBay is training “footware detectives” at “sneaker authentication centers” to detect knockoffs trying to pass themselves off as real Nike, Adidas, or New Balance shoes. Experts “have identified 52 elements of a finished shoe — from the materials used to the box it comes in — that might yield evidence of fakery,” said The Times. “The inspections examine details such as the font and quality of ink used for writing on the inside of the tongue or any small variations in the colour.” Regular glue-sniffing is also essential. The center’s authentication manager told the newspaper, “Over time you get familiar with the way it should smell and you can tell almost immediately when the glue is made from cheap materials.”
A doctor at a cosmetic-surgery center here said he performs as many as six “elf ear” surgeries a day, and over in Shanghai at one medical center people are lining up for them, according to the South China Morning Post. “Turning their ears into those that look like an elf’s has become one of the most sought-after procedures among China’s post-2000s generation recently as it’s believed to be able to make their faces look slimmer, and even younger,” said the newspaper. (“It is magic!” raved one customer. “I haven’t changed anything on my face and yet all my friends said I look different the day I got it done.”) The procedure involves either adding cartilage or an artificial material behind the ear, or injecting hyaluronic acid. Sure, things can go wrong—infection, blood clots, asymmetry, etc.—but let’s face it, even when the procedure is a complete success, you’re still left with … elf ears.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail