Welcome to Thursday, where Libya’s prime minister survives an assassination attempt, Belarus and Russia start joint military drills and a Republican congresswoman spills her gazpacho. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re also looking at the world of private jet travel, a means of transportation that soared during the pandemic.
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• Russia military drills with Belarus: Belarus and Russia started ten days of joint military drills on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the Kremlin’s buildup of forces along Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has said the aim of the exercises is to “practice suppressing and repelling external aggression.” Around 3,000 Russian troops are believed to be in Belarus, which according to NATO marks the biggest Russian deployment to the ex-Soviet territory since the Cold War. On a visit to NATO’s headquarters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the Ukraine crisis has entered its “most dangerous moment” as the threat of a war looms.
• COVID update: The U.S. plans to begin the distribution of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5, as early as Feb. 21, according to the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. Paris banned a French “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions from entering the capital city. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Jonhson outlined plans to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England within weeks, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.
• Libyan Prime Minister survives assassination attempt: Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt in Tripoli, after gunmen fired on his car as we was returning home early Thursday. The attack came amid intense rival factions over control of the government.
• Church sex abuse panel in Portugal reports first 200+ cases: A lay committee investigating historic child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced it had received allegations from 214 people throughout its first month of work.
• Olympics drug controversy: The 15-year-old Russian superstar figure skater Kamila Valieva has turned up for training as usual Thursday morning at the Winter Olympics, despite having tested positive for a banned substance. The International Olympic Committee had announced that the medal ceremony for the figure skating event had been suspended. Meanwhile, Austrian Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team to winning the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined event on Thursday, following in his father’s footsteps.
• Space storm destroys 40 of Space X’s Starlink satellites: Elon Musk's company SpaceX confirmed that a solar storm had destroyed most of the Starlink satellites it launched last Friday, with 40 of its 49 satellites expected to fall back to earth.
• Pro Trump representative confuses the Gestapo with gazpacho soup: Controversial Republican U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday as she accused Democratic leaders of “gazpacho” tactics on Capitol Hill. She apparently confused Hitler’s secret police with the popular Spanish cold tomato soup …
Canadian daily Ottawa Citizen devotes its front page to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Ottawa’s city center for more than a week. What started as demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The leader is demanding an end to the protests, which have forced some factories to shut down due to the blockade of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge on the border.
The South Korean curling team known as the “Garlic Girls” (마늘 소녀들, maneul sonyeodeul), a nod to the iconic produce of their region, starts competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics today in a round-robin match against Canada. The team had gained fame with its first Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, before prompting debates about the mistreatment of athletes in South Korea, when its members denounced their coaches’ harsh training and abuse nine months later.
How the pandemic spread private jet travel beyond the super-rich and powerful
Once the reserve of the super-rich and famous, private jet travel soared during the pandemic. Amid border closures and travel restrictions, private charter flights are sometimes the only option to get people — and their pets!? — home.
✈️ During the pandemic, a surprisingly wide demographic have turned to private jets not because it was a luxury they could afford, but out of desperation, trying to reach a destination in the face of border closures and widespread flight cancellations. Last year, private jet hours were close to 50% higher than in 2020, according to the Global Business Aviation Outlook. While some of the increase can be attributed to more travel in 2021 because of COVID-19 vaccination, it still amounts to 5% more hours than before the pandemic.
🐶 More than just saving time through skipping security lines and long waits at airports, flying private jets also lets the super wealthy, and those desperate enough to break the bank, sidestep other regulations. As part of its zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has severely limited flights. High cargo rates for animals and flight cancellations are making it very hard for pet owners to leave the island taking their furry friends along. Those desperate enough are spending upwards of $25,665 to privately charter themselves and their pets. Many are pooling their resources to share in the cost.
🧳 In Morocco, private jets were the only way for many to enter the North African kingdom after it suspended all air travel from Nov. 29 until Feb. 7 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 6,000 Moroccans were stuck abroad. In this case, many weren’t looking for a luxurious travel experience but were just desperate to return to their home country. Traveling in groups was one way to decrease the expense, to as low as $1,400 per passenger for a flight from Europe, but for some this still means relying on family support or finding other ways to raise money.
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“I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't hurt anyone. Not even a scratch.”
— Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the ISIS cell that targeted Paris in the 2015 attacks, has denied killing or hurting anybody during the trial of the attacks that left 130 people dead. Adbeslam said he supported the Islamic State of Iraq but chose at the last minute not to detonate his explosives, though prosecutors believe his suicide belt malfunctioned. The French-Moroccan is the only defendant, among 20, to be directly accused of murder and hostage taking.
The Enigma, a 555.55 carat black gem believed to be the world's largest cut diamond, has sold for $4.3 million in an online auction. The gem, known as a “carbonado,” is an extremely rare billion-year-old black diamond which contain osbonite, a mineral found only in meteors — meaning it could originate from space.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
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The clumsy restoration of a mural of Christ in a Spanish chapel 10 years ago shocked, then amused Spaniards and millions more abroad, and gave the local town a level of publicity, and tourist revenues, it never had nor could have hoped for. Here's how it looks 10 years later.
BORJA — Among the countless pictures and images of Christ around the world, it might not be outlandish to imagine that one of them might seek revenge — using humidity as the instrument of its vengeance.
One might say this of a by-now notorious mural of Christ inside a chapel in Borja in the province of Aragón, northern Spain.
Painted in 1930 by a painter and academic, the image was smothered in 2012 by Cecilia Giménez Zueca, a local resident and amateur painter. She wanted to help no doubt, but her "unfinished" restoration turned a venerable image of the suffering Christ — an Ecce Homo — into a bloated, indefinable cartoon.
And it made the news, big time, putting Borja on the tourist map. Travel agencies began organizing tours to Borja, and over 235,000 tourists have already visited the comical disaster.
A not-so notable history
The original painting may not have been much. It covered part of a side wall of the Sanctuary of Mercy or chapel of the Caserón de Borja, reputedly Spain's oldest travel inn. Pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela would stop here.
In 1937, the actress Imperio Argentina filmed scenes from her film Nobleza baturra ("Aragon's Nobility") in the inn.
Today the historic inn houses 36 rental flats, while the three euros it costs to see Cecilia's puffy Christ have helped finance the Holy Spirit Hospital of Borja, the nearby pensioners' home whose residents include Cecilia, now aged 91.
Her intervention has inspired an opera, earned itself a mention in an article on Madonna, the singer, and generates endless memes online. People have made cakes and pies covered with this Ecce Homo, as well as souvenirs like cups and keyrings. A machine at the chapel entrance invites visitors to mint a coin with this face.
Goodwill turned disaster
María José, or Pepa, is a Borja resident who charges the entry fee for the chapel. Like others, she will tell you Cecilia decided in 2012 to "fix" the portrait as, she said then, "it's looking awful."
The mural was painted a year before Cecilia was born, by Elías García Martínez, a teacher at the Zaragoza School of Art (he was copying an earlier Christ he painted in 1918).
Pepa says "you think this is the first time she touched it?" Cecilia, she adds, habitually came every summer to clean the chapel, walking five kilometers up a hill from Borja. Indeed, she had an "interventionist" reputation with the local heritage.
I started painting the face, and it came out all wrong.
In this case, use of water in the restoration combined with the wall's considerable humidity, wiped away and likely mixed certain colors to leave, well, a mess.
"I'll come back and finish it in a few days, it's not a big deal," she said, according to Pepa. She then went on holiday. Before her return, neighbors and the press, notably the local Heraldo de Aragón, had arrived, and her intervention went viral.
A couple from Málaga in southern Spain and three girls from Madrid listen as Pepa talks. The girls then pose beside the suffering Christ and she takes their picture with a cellphone.
She goes on: "They wouldn't let her touch it again. She's always said she hadn't finished. She left it like that as she intended to finish her work after her vacation." She was "attacked a lot," says Pepa, referring to the initial outrage the restoration caused across the country.
Before-and-after photos of the Borja Christ
A new tourist attraction
In 2012, another Clarín correspondent, Leonardo Torresi, visited Borja to see the picture when it was all the rage. Cecilia told him "something compelled" her to fix that Christ, a "kind of force inside me, but I still don't know what it was."
Some townsfolk claim she has privately admitted, "I started painting the face, and it came out all wrong."
Cecilia moves in a wheelchair today, but wants to get better so she can return to the chapel. She was married there, her two children were baptized and took their communion there, by the original painting.
Today, Pepa says "there were all kinds of reactions because there are people who don't like our town being known for this, and others who do." She doesn't mind, she says, "but there is so much more to Borja." She admits so many people used to pass through Borja without stopping. Now, she says, "they come to see this, and stay in the area."
The municipality has no intention of restoring the painting. "Would you have come to see the original," Pepa asks?
And yet, the painting will have its revenge. Cecilia's version is starting to peel, for the humidity. "This bit fell off yesterday," says Pepa, holding a piece from the edge.
Who'll be the one to restore this version, I ask her, to which she replies, "nobody."
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