Well, it’s certainly been a gift to editorial cartoonists and headline writers: the Brazilian government authorized purchasing 35,000 doses of Viagra, plus $700,000 worth of penile implants, for its military. “Our hospitals don’t have enough medication, and [President Jair] Bolsonaro and his crew are using public money to buy ‘the little blue pill’,” an opposition politician told The Times of London. The Defense Ministry’s defense: the pills were actually bought “to treat patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension.”
Observers could hardly contain their glee. According to the newspaper, the ministry has been ridiculed in “cartoons featuring tanks with drooping cannons,” and on Twitter, where someone noted how “this explains why the military’s support for Bolsonaro just rises and rises.” Well, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a standing army, is there?
The French are in seizing ’n’ freezing mode, to the tune of billions of euros’ worth of oligarchian properties and possessions, including Roman Abramovich’s Château de la Croë, in Cap d’Antibes, and his $90 million villa, on St. Barthélemy in the Caribbean. “The economy ministry has also targeted the €1,000 [$1,100]-a-night Le Grand Coeur & Spa hotel in Méribel in the French Alps, which is owned by a company whose head is Elena Timchenko, the wife of Gennady Timchenko, a 69-year-old billionaire on the EU sanctions list,” reported The Times of London. “Les Echos, the French financial daily, reported last month that Paris was unable to target his wife because she was not herself on the E.U. sanctions list. However, she was added last week on the grounds that she ‘participates in [her husband’s] public affairs via the Timchenko Foundation.’” A foundation, according to its Web site, that wants nothing more than to “make the world better.”
The Times said that other frozen properties, according to Le Parisien, included “flats opposite the Élysée owned by Viktor Rashnikov, 73, a Russian oligarch and founder of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works, one of the biggest steel companies in the world,” and “two cargo ships and a yacht … owned by Igor Sechin, 61, head of Rosneft, the Russian state energy group.” Also some helicopters, and billions in French banks, of unspecified Russian provenance.
Just when you were starting to grasp the concept of pickleball (a little bit badminton, a smidgen of Ping-Pong, a touch of tennis), now comes padel. Sensing an uptick of interest, the Queen’s Club is building two new courts for a game that, as The Times of London noted, was until recently “widely dismissed as tennis for pensioners and kids, a dumbed-down version of a venerable game.” Although most games are doubles, the padel court is a third the size of a tennis court; participants serve underhand and are allowed to play off walls.
Other clubs are adding padel as well, such as the Hurlingham, in Fulham, and the Edgbaston Priory, in Birmingham, and “the benefits of the game have attracted a high-profile following, with Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, and Jurgen Klopp, his rival at Liverpool, installing courts at their football clubs’ respective training grounds,” according to the newspaper. David Beckham, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray are also fans, and Murray “has put his money where his racket is by backing Game4Padel, an Edinburgh-based operator.”
With visitor numbers reaching pre-pandemic levels over Easter weekend, this tourist-saturated city will begin charging day-trippers up to $11 for entry, in a kind of surge-pricing arrangement. “The experimental phase begins in June, when day tourists will be invited to book through a website,” one tourism official was quoted in The Guardian. “Those who book will receive incentives, such as discounts on entering museums. To determine the access fee, we will set a maximum threshold of 40,000 or 50,000 visitors a day.” Venice really seems more like a theme park every day.
“Completely unexpected” is how the lead archaeologist described the discovery last week, under Notre Dame, of “[a] treasure of statues, sculptures, tombs and pieces of an original rood screen dating back to the 13th century,” according to The Guardian. “One of the most extraordinary pieces was an intact sculpture of the head of a man, believed to be a representation of Jesus, carved from stone.” Also found during the dig was a lead sarcophagus, possibly containing the body of a 14th-century church official. All of it just four to six inches beneath the floor slabs. Notre Dame, still undergoing restoration and reconstruction after the 2019 fire, is scheduled to reopen in 2024.
Both Ukrainian and Russian forces are using decoys, from “scarecrow soldiers” fixed up with missile launchers to ersatz armored vehicles, to fool each other. “Resourceful Ukrainian units have been flying old, expendable drones over Russian positions to lure them out of cover, draw their fire and betray the location of their air defence systems,” reported The Times of London. “But the Russians have also used deception against defending military units. Photos taken in a recaptured Ukrainian town show they transformed a family hatchback car to make it look like an armoured vehicle carrying a surface to air missile system. Planks of wood were strapped to its doors and bonnet, with two bigger beams nailed to the roof to mimic rockets.”
(Monetizing) anarchy in the U.K.: a new $85 million Hilton hotel, the Canopy, was inspired by the nearby Freedom Press Publishing House—“the voice of Britain’s anarchist movement for more than 130 years, serving up its readers a steady stream of radical literature and urging them to ‘fight the rich’,” according to The Times of London—to open something it called “the Freedom Café.” Until the anarchists squawked, the “swanky cocktail bar featuring velvet sofas and gold detailing … offered anarchist-themed cocktails for £14 [$20] and bottles of champagne costing £165 [$215].” The 340-room hotel’s now abandoned anarchist branding had described the bar as a “gathering place for writers, radicals, entrepreneurs and artists.” Rooms at the Canopy start at $325 a night.
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL