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Wartime News And French Sunshine: A Cry In The Dark For My Precious Ukraine

Our Ukrainian journalist has another job to help pay the bills: at a luxury hotel in the South of France. It brings the stark contrast of her life right now, and the risks facing her native country, into desperately sharp relief.

Photo of a sand castle with the Ukrainian flag on top

A sandcastle with the Ukrainian flag on top

Anna Akage


Every day we produce a news digest about the war in Ukraine. Every day, my colleagues and I scour dozens of news sources across multiple languages; and drop what we find in the same Google Doc: the latest reports from the frontline, from Donetsk and Kyiv and the Kremlin, from Washington, Brussels and Beijing. And every day, it winds up on your screen. Day 30. Day 72. Day 146.

Every day is war.

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For four months now, in addition to contributing to this chronicling, and writing and translating articles from my native country, I have also been working as a part-time receptionist in a hotel. It’s a five-star hotel in the south of France, the place I’ve called home for the past three years.

This other job requires that I solve problems guests may have with their bookings for Mediterranean cruises or appliances that don’t work in their rooms, I reserve restaurants and order diet food for vacationing dogs. The job requires that I do my work with a smile — I smile all the time at my other job.

Night shifts and first editions

When I work night shifts, I get the first print edition of The New York Times international edition. Lately, I don't know exactly how I feel when the front page doesn't feature coverage of Ukraine, of the tanks and artillery, of dead bodies and destroyed houses in my country, of my people.

They say you get used to everything. This is the worst thing in journalism: not the habits of the journalist, but the habit of the topic. We know the reader gets tired if nothing new happens for a long time. No, the daily killing and destruction in my country is no longer new.

It's a truth that, every day, makes me sick to think about. Even I sometimes wish I could take a day off from reading the news. But I read it anyway.

Every day it hurts my cheekbones to smile at people with plump wallets from stable democracies. Every day to read the news about the bombings. Every day to count down a new day of the war, knowing that the reader is growing tired of this “story,” that there is no end in sight, that we are in this habit of just listing, fixing, but not in a position to analyze, much less predict.

Photo of parasols on the beach

Parasols on the beach in southern France

Dominic Spohr/Unsplash

What guests will say

When they find out that I am Ukrainian, the hotel guests react in different ways. Some want to reach out and take hold of my hand, most sigh and make those dog eyes, other cringe, and my "favorite" tell me directly to my face that this is just another Afghanistan, where America and Russia play out their political games.

I sometimes wish I could take a day off from reading the news. But I read it anyway.

Even I sometimes wish I could take a day off from reading the news. But I read it anyway.

The bridges and castles lit up in yellow and blue, the heat, the ash from the sky from the forest fires, the crowds of tourists, the millions of ice cubes in thousands of cocktails at hundreds of tables. The sun of southern France has never burned so brightly.

And right here, right here in my fatigue and displacement, in my everyday dreams, they are flying, flying nonstop these blind fucking rockets. Flying and falling on children, on flowers, on roads, scraping scars on my heart and my body.

A warm body

Why don't they march as infantry, fight our boys, look the enemy in the eye. Sons of bitches. But no. Flying and flying, God, every day these rockets fly.

They crash into the festival, into the hot beach, into the bright swimsuit, the sweating summer glass, tearing through the crowds of innocence, scattering posters over the streets that just a second ago were so alive.

If I could just shut up all these mouths from where the news of death keeps coming. If I could just stop them from screaming and spitting in my face, stinging my body. A huge body, warm. The tender body of my Ukraine.

And life goes on. You get used to everything, even the most extreme contrasts. Simultaneously here and there. Cutting in with screams and blood, bursting with laughter and music.

Sun and death.

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food / travel

Pasta v. Fascists: How Italy's Staple Dish Became A Symbol Of Resistance

Pasta may not be considered controversial today, but it played an important role during Italy's fascist years, particularly in one family's celebration of community and liberation.

Photo of the Cervi family.

Photo of the Cervi family, whose seven children were shot by the Fascists on December 28, 1943, at the Reggio Emilia shooting range.

@comunisti_alla_ribalta via Instagram
Jacopo Fontaneto

ROME — Eighty years ago — on July 25, 1943 — the vote of no confidence by the Grand Council of Fascism, leading to Benito Mussolini's arrest, set off widespread celebrations. In Campegine, a small village in the Emilian province, the Cervi family celebrated in their own way: they brought 380 kilograms of pasta in milk cans to the town square and offered it to all the inhabitants of the village.

The pasta was strictly plain: macaroni dressed with butter and cheese, seen as more of a "festive dish" in that period of deprivation. As soon as the Cervi brothers learned about the arrest of Mussolini, they procured flour, borrowed butter and cheese from the dairy, and prepared kilos and kilos of pasta. They then loaded it onto a cart to distribute it to their fellow villagers. Pastasciutta (dry pasta) specifically regards dishes with noodles that are plated "dry", not in broth. That would disqualify soup, risotto, ravioli...

Even though pastasciutta is the most stereotypical type of pasta today, it had a complicated relationship with the government during Italy's fascist years.

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