IL MESSAGGERO
Founded in 1878 in Rome, Il Messaggero has long been the best-selling daily in the Italian capital. It is owned by the holding company of Roman construction magnate Francesco Caltagirone.
Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Kabul Blast Aftermath, Nigerian Students Freed, Hummingbirds Vs. Harassment

Welcome to Friday, where evacuation flights resume at Kabul airport after yesterday's deadly attack, dozens of kidnapped Nigerian students are freed, and female hummingbirds evolve so that males get off their feathers. We also boldly explore the surprising crossroads between science fiction and real-life military strategy.





• Kabul airport blast aftermath: The death toll in yesterday's attack on Kabul's international airport rose to 90, mostly Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. military personnel. President Joe Biden promised retaliation after the attack was claimed by the country's Islamic State offshoot, saying: "We will hunt you down and make you pay." The United States said evacuation flights would continue ahead of the planned Aug. 31 American pullout.


• Dozens of Nigerian students released: Dozens of pupils who had been kidnapped from an Islamic school in the north-central Nigerian state of Niger by gunmen last May have been freed by their captors. Six of the original group of 136 died, while 15 managed to escape about a month after they were abducted.

• COVID-19 update: A UK study — the largest of its kind, with close to 30 million participants — found that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines present a significantly lower risk of forming blood clots than COVID-19 itself. Meanwhile in New Zealand, which is on the highest lockdown level, police broke up an Auckland protest that drew one demonstrator.


• China cracks down on celebrity fan culture: In an effort to tackle online bullying and protect children, China is barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and are regulating the sale of fan merchandise. The decision comes amid calls for popular online artists to rethink the influence they have over minors.

Apple allows developers to make money outside of iPhone apps: The tech giant agreed to a settlement that allows app makers to avoid commissions and gain greater autonomy in how they receive payments. Apple will also provide $100 million in payouts to small app developers while agreeing not to raise the commission rate they have to pay.


• Air pollution linked to more severe mental illness: A small rise in exposure to air pollution, such as nitrogen dioxide, seems to be linked to an increased severity of mental illness, according to the most comprehensive study of its kind.

Female hummingbirds avoid harassment by looking like males: According to new research, female hummingbirds are found to have evolved with bright feathers, to try and avoid being attacked by the male of the species who tends to prefer a greyer plumage. The flashy attire leaves the females with more time to search for food and protect their supply, the biologists suggest.



International newspapers devoting their Friday front page to the deadly terror attack that rocked Kabul's international airport yesterday, killing scores of people and temporarily halting the evacuation of Afghans fleeing in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Italian daily Il Messagero describes scenes of "ultimate horror" after the blast killed at least 90.


Why the world's military leaders are drafting science fiction writers

Space exploration, extraterrestrial life, time travel ... All common science fiction tropes that are as fascinating and they are mindboggingly fun — but not exactly useful in the real world, right? The military may beg to differ:

🖋️ Le Monde recently reported on the unusual collaboration between the French Ministry of Defense and the University of Paris Sciences and Lettres (PSL) that has just launched the second season of a project involving scenarios drawn up by science writers hired by the French military. The army is devising ways to make the practice as useful as possible: there's a "Red Team" consisting of authors, who have wide freedom in coming up with scenarios. They can put ideas on the table that the French army typically excludes for ethical reasons, such as Autonomous Lethality Weapon Systems (ALWS), or augmented humans.

🚀 The truth is that the practice has long existed, in different forms and sectors. Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon indirectly influenced politics and military decisions in the United States. The story is about a group of men who decide to launch themselves to the moon in a cylinder-shaped projectile. This fictional shell has striking similarities to the Apollo 11 command module used to bring the first humans to the moon 104 years later: it was hollow, made mostly of aluminium, crewed by three people, launched from Florida, and it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Verne's tale inspired real people to work on the challenges of space travel, eventually prompting the 20th century space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

📚 Instead of hiring science fiction writers, the German military has opted for researching existing literature and in 2018 teamed up with a handful of academics. Their plan is to use novels to pinpoint the world's next potential conflict. As German weekly Die Zeit reports, this collaboration, dubbed "Project Cassandra" after the Trojan priestess of Greek myth who had the gift of foresight, doesn't solely focus on science fiction and future technologies, but takes into account human behavior. They look for social trends, moods, and conflicts that arose in response to political decisions and technological breakthroughs (whether real or fictional).

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com




$20 billion

Microsoft has promised to invest 20 billion dollars over the next five years to improve cybersecurity in the United States and will offer the equivalent of 150 million dollars in technical services to the federal government, states and local authorities. Google also pledged $10 billion for this same period and will train 100,000 Americans in data analysis and IT support.


"Our country is doing badly and we need a change-over."

— Former Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier told French TV as he officially entered the French presidential race as a member of the right-wing Republicans party. Barnier, 70, said his experience with Brexit taught him the importance of getting the job done, and not just talking about it in public.



Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

New cycle path in Milan
Society

COVID-19 Sparks First Signs Of Worldwide Bicycle Revolution

Across the globe, the coronavirus crisis has forced people to change not only the ways they work and interact with each other, but also how they travel. And in several countries, one of the unexpected consequences of all this has been a renewed interest in transportation of the pedal-powered, two-wheeled variety.

In some places — the Netherlands comes to mind — bicycles were popular even before the pandemic. But elsewhere, people are rediscovering them as a good alternative to public transport, where commuters are more at risk of catching the virus. Bikes, in contrast, are great for keeping physical distance. Riders can also cover quite a bit of ground, and get some exercise while they're at it.

Little wonder that in some countries, bicycle sales are booming — to the point that stores can't keep up with the high demand. "We're the new toilet paper and everyone wants a piece," a bike-store manager in Sydney, Australia told The Guardian.

Interestingly, the bicycle bump is also, in some cases, the product of public policy, as governments on both the national and local level are encouraging the use two-wheelers with concrete actions and incentives:

  • In France, that means tapping into an existing but neglected resource: the approximately 9 million "dormant" bikes ​thought to be collecting dust and rust and garages or sheds. To get all those bicycle back on the streets, the government has introduced a 50-euro voucher that people can claim and use for repairs. The voucher system is part of a global 20 million-euro package called "Coup de pouce vélo" to encourage more people to bike, with temporary bike parking and free educational sessions. And it seems to already be bearing fruit: More than 4,300 people living in the Ile-de-France region have already used the voucher, the daily Le Parisien reports.

Riding a bicycle on the famous Rue de Rivoli in Paris — Photo: Aurelien MorissardXinhua/ZUMA

  • Authorities in Italy are dangling money incentives as well — to the tune of 500 euros! — which residents in cities of at least 50,000 can use to buy a bicycle, Segway or even a scooter, Il Messaggero reports. This is part of a "Relaunch Decree" announced on May 14 that also promises to extend cycle lanes. The city of Milan had already released an ambitious plan called "Strade Aperte" to transform 35 km of city streets to make them more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians with new bike lanes, widened pavements and reduced speed limits.

  • In Colombia, authorities in the capital city, Bogota, are also offering bike riders extra accommodations. The city already has an extensive cycling network with 550 km of bike routes as well as "La Ciclovia," a program that involves closing main roads to cars every Sunday for cyclists and pedestrians. But in March, Mayor Claudia Lopez extended the program, closing more than 76 km to add new temporary bike routes during weekdays. The authorities are now considering making these changes permanent, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, adding that this has facilitated the circulation of around 922,000 cyclists so far. The mayor also insisted that bike shops be included on the list of essential services, thus allowing them to remain open during the lockdown.

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Prague restaurant shut down by COVID-19 quarantine
Geopolitics

Economic Stimulus DIY: New Business Ideas To Dodge COVID-19 Crisis

The novel coronavirus has raced around the world, shutting down entire societies and ravaging national economies along the way. Now, as national and regional governments apply stimulus plans and offer emergency aid, some everyday people and quickly assembled groups are doing what they can to save local businesses and try to jumpstart the economy on their own.

SAVING CZECH PUBS: With more than 90% of pubs closed due to lockdown measures, the Czech Republic has been deprived of an emblematic part of its culture. In response, Czechs have spent 7 million CZK (257,124 euro) since the beginning of April on beer and food vouchers to be consumed in better times, reported iROZHLAS.cz. Started by the Czech Beer and Malt Association, the site "Zachraň svou hospodu!" (Save Your Pub!) enables concerned drinkers to buy vouchers in order to support their favorite bars and restaurants through the coronavirus shutdown, and use them whenever the cash-strapped pubs reopen.

MAYORAL CURRENCY: In the southeastern Italy, the mayor of the small town of Castellino del Biferno has issued a new local currency in an attempt to relaunch the economy. The "ducato," equivalent to one euro, has been printed in denominations of 20 and 50, and distributed directly to families in need, who can use the bills in local food stories registered with the town, reports Il Messaggero. Mayor Enrico Fratangelo says he's been studying the possibility of a local currency for several years, but it became urgent because of the lack of responsiveness from national and regional authorities to the needs of the town of circa 500 residents. In a move that would impress Donald Trump, one of the 20-ducati bills features a drawing of Fratangelo.

ANGERS VS. AMAZON: In the city of Angers, in western France, local shops have teamed up with a tech startup to develop an online shopping platform aimed at "fighting Amazon on equal terms," French public radio Franceinforeports. Angersshopping, inaugurated last week with the help of Angers authorities, boasts 12,000 products (food, books, cosmetics, or even cloth to make facial masks) from 70 local shops which can be delivered by bike to the customers' home within 72 hours. In one day, the platform attracted 20,000 visitors and generated 10,000 euros in sales, with an additional 240 shops now looking to join the initiative.

REVAMPED NYC RESTAURANTS: We've read about Michelin-star chefs selling take-out, but another somewhat less chic novelty in New York City is local restaurants and bars transforming into distributors of basic essentials for their customers from flour to toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Instead of fighting long lines and crowded aisles of NYC supermarkets during the crisis, one wine bar in Brooklyn, Glou+Glick, has begun to buy grocery staples wholesale for their customers. "If you're going to come in and buy two bottles of a cool wine," Glou +Glick's owner says, "and you're out of sugar or kosher salt, you're already here. It's not busy and there's space." Meanwhile, a nearby Mexican restaurant, Boca Santa, is selling boxes stocked up with a selection of healthy organic produce.

ENTREPRENEURIAL TEEN SPIRIT DOWN UNDER: Though many have taken to worrying about their financial future in the wake of the coronavirus, especially with national youth unemployment at more than double the overall rate in Australia, young people in regional Victoria are finding a silver lining and a way to make a quick buck. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 9.9% of workers under the age of 20 have lost their jobs since March 14, but that isn't stopping 19-year-old Jordan Cassells and those like him to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit. Cassells is working on opening his own freelance writing business as part of a local government youth program, like the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship, helping students in the area learn how to open their own businesses. Another unemployed 19-year-old, Lunor Folly, produces online fitness videos and tutorials to make ends meet and thinks the self-employment trend started by coronavirus is likely to grow, "I think a lot of people will make that decision, and rather make income through social media than through day-to-day jobs." These were obviously trends already underway, now accelerated by the pandemic. Time will tell if it helps lead to a more rapid recovery, or just a momentary illusion before an even deeper, longer crisis.

A mural depicting Russian Putin critic Alexei Navalny is being painted over less than 90 minutes after it was discovered on Wednesday in Saint Petersburg.
BBC

The Latest: Biden’s Vision, Navalny Appearance, 5,000-Year-Old Tombs

Welcome to Thursday, where Biden lays out his vision for America, Northern Ireland leader quits over Brexit and a Navalny mural appears in Saint Petersburg (as he appears gaunt in a remote court hearing). We also turn to Germany, where Die Welt sounds the alarm about the male infertility crisis afflicting the Western world.

• Biden's address to Congress: To mark 100 days in office, U.S. President Joe Biden gave his first address to the nation Wednesday night, unveiling huge investments for jobs, education and care plans, while addressing white supremacy and systemic racism.

• Two Myanmar air bases attacked: Attacks have been launched against two Myanmar air bases on Thursday, as blasts and rocket fires have been reported. No attackers have been identified yet.

• A gaunt Navalny makes first appearance since hunger strike: Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny appeared in court via video link for an appeals hearing, criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government in his first public appearance since he went on hunger strike.

• India maintains state elections despite COVID surge: Residents of the Indian state of West Bengal are voting in the last phase of elections amid a deadly second wave of coronavirus.

• Northern Ireland first minister resigns: Northern Ireland First Minister and majority party leader Arlene Foster has announced her resignation, following protests over post-Brexit borders.

• First step for China's new space station: China has launched a module of a new space station, amid hopes that Beijing will have the new station operational by 2022.

• 5,000-year-old tombs discovered in Egypt: Some 110 pre-Pharaonic tombs have been discovered in the Nile Delta by Egyptian archaeologists, shedding light on major transitional periods in ancient Egypt.

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French President Emmanuel Macron visiting a supermarket in western France on April 22
Geopolitics

For World Leaders, The Hard Choices Of COVID-19 Have Only Begun

As governments now brace themselves to begin a tightrope walk between saving lives and saving their hemorrhaging economies, one thing is certain: No decision will lead to a perfect outcome. National leaders must quickly pivot from a posture of disaster relief to satisfying often contradictory demands from their populations as the pandemic's rally-around-the-flag effect starts to fade. Indeed, for all of us, hovering over the burdensome journey ahead will be the same doubt that comes in times when old certainties are suddenly up for grabs: Will it bring us closer together, or drive us farther apart? It is question posed both within and among nations.


So far, the most acute phase of the pandemic has offered national leaders some temporary respite from dissent. In Italy, where the virus has been particularly devastating, approval of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte reached 71% in March — far higher than those achieved by his two most recent predecessors, reports Il Fatto Quotidiano. In Sweden, where authorities have been under both domestic and foreign fire for its light-touch approach, approval of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has nonetheless increased from 26% to 47% since the crisis began, reports daily Expressen. In South Korea, where the widely praised reaction to the coronavirus outbreak limited death tolls, President Moon Jae-in's ruling Democratic Party coalition won a landslide victory earlier this month.

Still, cracks in support are beginning to show, which may be explained only in part by some examples of objectively poor management of the crisis. In France, President Emmanuel Macron's support has dropped the past few weeks, reaching 40% on Monday, its lowest level since the pandemic arrived, reports Les Echos. U.S. President Donald Trump is finally paying the price for his ham-handed (and much worse) management of the coronavirus response.

We've seen the whims of popular support in other dramatic events in the recent past. After 9/11 when President George W Bush briefly hit 90% approval, while Francois Hollande, the most unpopular French president in post-War history got a 21% boost after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, only to see his support quickly plummet in the succeeding months.

Still, as fearsome as the current crisis may be, it is something different than a terrorist attack — both more insidious and harder to track, tearing at every part of our societal fabric. It also comes as many countries were already suffering a surge in polarization, populism and growing distrust of government leaders.

Indeed, the threat of an economic depression turning into a democratic collapse is very real for many countries. The IMF has projected an economic downturn 30% worse than the 2009 financial crisis and a $9 trillion hit to global gross domestic product. Indeed, the financial crash a decade right now seems to pale in comparison with a perhaps more fitting, historical analogy taking us back to the mind-bending devastation of World War II.

That too was an event that destabilized nearly every corner of the planet, sparking a recognition of the need for some kind a minimum of established norms and shared values. What followed were the Nuremberg trials which, however inconclusive, were part of a broader effort to engineer a new world order and establish a common humanity as a legal principle. The post-1945 divisions, of course, brought us the Cold War, but also such institutions as the United Nations, and the Coal and Steel Collaboration that led to the European Union.

With the current uncertainty, and rising nationalist sentiment, it is still hard to envision such a rosy recomposition of the world order. In an interview last week with Le Monde, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was rather pessimistic: "My fear is that the world "after" will look a whole lot like the world before, but worse," Le Drian said. "We seem to be witnessing an amplification of the fractures that have been threatening the international order for years. The pandemic is the continuation, by other means, of the old power struggles."

It will be months or years before we know whether this dark forecast comes to pass, or the COVID-19 dynamic somehow manages to advance a new kind of collaboration in domestic and international politics. What we do know is that the pandemic has laid bare the fragility of our globalized world while also demonstrating its potential for good — setting the stage for what might very well be recalled as a turning point in history.

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In Gaza, an imam's virtually broadcast call to prayer
ABC

Coronavirus — Global Brief: A Modern Plague Tests Modern Religions

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.​

SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS

"As we gather here today …"

Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.

What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?

We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.

Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.

But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.

Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.

— Bertrand Hauger


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW​

• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.​​​

• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.​​​

• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.​​​

• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.​​​

• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.​​​

• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.​​​

• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.

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On the beach of La Concha, in San Sebastian, Spain
ABC

Next On COVID-19 Calendar: Our Summer Vacations At Risk

Quarantines, closed borders, grounded airlines, crowded beaches ... It may be a summer to forget, that we'll always remember.

PARIS — After Spring break and Easter holidays were largely canceled amid lockdown measures and travel bans around the world, should we also start to worry about our summer vacations?

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen advised against making plans for the summer, telling Germany daily Bild "no one can make reliable forecasts for July and August at the moment". Across the Atlantic, top U.S. health official, Dr Anthony Fauci said on CBS summer travel "can be in the cards' but only if the country manages to prevent a second wave of infections.

For those looking to travel abroad (maybe you bought tickets months ago?), some countries might not allow tourists to enter at all. According to ABC, Spain, one of the worst-hit countries, is thinking about closing its borders this summer to prevent a second wave, despite the fact that the tourism sector makes up 12% of the country's GDP.

Several countries have already begun to explicitly encourage people to stay closer to home than usual. French cabinet minister Elisabeth Borne said last week: "Now is not the time to buy a ticket to go to the other side of the planet (...) But we can encourage French people to enjoy our beautiful country for the next holidays, which will also help the tourism industry." Australia and Italy are also putting in place incentives for residents to plan domestic holidays, with various bans on international travel potentially remaining in place until 2021.

A deserted beach in Barcelona, Spain — Paco Freire/SOPA Images via ZUMA

And even if borders are slowly reopened and travel restrictions lifted in the coming months, getting to your chosen holiday destination may not be easy. The crisis is taking a huge toll on the airline sector, with some industry analysts forecasting a round of major bankruptcies by May.​ Already, EasyJet's fleet has been grounded to a halt for two weeks in the UK while Air France expects more than 90% of its capacity to remain suspended at least until the end of May.

It's a question of survival for businesses, and responding to a pent-up demand from the public.

CEO of consulting firm Protourisme Didier Arino told Le Figaro that there will be few airplanes in the sky this summer, as "companies are planning to use only 50% of their capacity, for five months." In the U.S., the CDC has extended the No Sail Order for cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers, for at least until mid-July.

For sun worshipers, after a long winter and months cooped up in quarantine, there is just one thing on their mind: the beach. Italy's Culture and Tourism Minister Dario Franceschini was asked last week if people will be able to go to the beach. "Sure! Of course it depends on how well we follow the (quarantine) measures now," he was quoted in Il Messaggero. "Then we'll let the scientists guide us on the right safety practices to deal with crowds."

Italian news site Linkiesta interviewed Marco Beoni who runs the "La Giunca" beach club in Sabaudia, south of Rome, who expects sunbathers will be itching to get to the seaside. But Beoni is already preparing a whole new approach to welcoming them, including fewer umbrellas to better regulate the space between people, special early hours restricted for senior citizens, repeated disinfecting of tables and beach chairs, as well as required testing of lifeguards and other beach personnel.

It's a question of both the survival of his own business, and responding to a pent-up demand from the public: "What's important is to be there this summer to save our business, " he said. "But we don't want to rush into a reopening, and make sure that all the safety measures are in place." So, you may have your summer after all, though it will be unforgettable for all the wrong reasons.

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Atena Lucana, Italy
Sources
Juan David Romero

All Greek To Them: How Three Colombians Found Athens In Italy

Three Colombians ended up in Atena Lucana, Italy, instead of Atenas, Greece.

PARIS — Nobody would be happier than me if there were direct flights between Bogotá and Athens. As a native Colombian residing in Greece, I have had to make connecting flights between these two homes from time to time. The back-and-forth from the Greek capital to my hometown has landed me in different international airports with layovers of all kinds: Bogotá-Miami-Barcelona-Athens, Athens-Rome-Miami-Bogotá, Bogotá-Miami-Paris-Athens and onward-and-elsewhere.

But for three fellow Colombians (with whom, for the record, I have absolutely no connection), trying to get to Greece turned into a true lost-in-translation odyssey.

The three Colombians (a man named Diego, his girlfriend and her friend) were on their way to Greece for vacation, with a stopover at the Capodichino airport in Naples, Italy. But according to the southern Italian newspaper Gazzetta della Valdagri, the trio was somehow convinced that they had already reached the Greek capital: Atenas, as we say in Spanish, or Atene, as they say in Italian.

They disembarked and merrily began to search for their hotel (who knows, maybe they would catch a view of the Parthenon along the way!). But as Il Messaggero reports, the three wound up on a bus from Naples 142 kilometers southeast to a village called: Atena Lucana. Sure, a few millennia ago, it was a trading town in the Greek empire, but its 3,000 residents today live in what nobody disputes is the country of Italy.

A quick Google Maps search reveals the sheer outlandishness of this tale and leaves us wondering how the trio got so far off their trail. Surely they must have known they had a layover. Surely they must have done some preliminary research and quickly realized Italian is not the official language of Greece. Surely, they could have inquired at the airport.

Perhaps the common olive-scented whiff of the Mediterranean might have thrown them off the trail, but this only makes this story slightly less preposterous than having ended up in a different Athens, like the one in the U.S., in Georgia or Arkansas.

In any case, these three stooges ended up in a lounge bar called Maracanà around 9 p.m., where the owner, Luigi Terruzzi, happened to be hosting an evening of Latin music with Enzo Santoriello, the DJ.

The Map of Naples, Italy — Google Maps

"There are always many people with South American origins for these evenings. Of course, ‘originating from" and not ‘from South America"," Terruzzi recounted. "At first, we did not really understand each other. Those three continued to say ‘Athens, Athens." And then they asked for the Hotel Museum, which we don't have here."

Indeed, the Hotel Museum is not too far from my house, in Athens. The Athens. Again, to be fair, Athens in Spanish is written Atenas, which obviously sounds the same as Atena — except for the Lucana part. In addition to that, they didn't have a SIM card, so they were unable to use their cell phones and the internet. And it is true that visa-free travel to Europe was granted to Colombians as recently as December of 2018, so it is possible that it was their first time ever in Europe.

Eventually, Santoriello and Terruzzi, good samaritans and lovers of Latin music, helped the Colombians reach a bus station, where they all learned the tickets to Rome cost 70 euros, and the tickets to Greece another 700. "They didn't even want a sandwich," Terruzzi said. "Enzo and I were as surprised as they were. We showed them a map of Atena Lucana. We sat them down because they were no longer able to stand."

To my three fellow Colombians, I feel for you, I know that feeling of being lost. Well, not that lost. In fact, I can assure you that if this story is true, as Luigi and Enzo claim when I reached out to them, most of my compatriatos are not this disoriented. For the moment, I am in Paris (France, not Texas), but when I get back to Athens, you can hire me as your own special Greek tourist guide — from Colombia.

Il Messaggero
blog

Extra! Rome Elects First Woman Mayor, Insurgents Rise Across Italy

ROME —Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old insurgent newcomer, has scored a resounding victory over the candidate from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's ruling party to become the first woman mayor of Italian capital Rome.

Raggi, a member of the upstart anti-establishment 5-Star Movement founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, defeated Democratic Party candidate Roberto Giachetti in the Sunday vote by what early results show to be a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Rome had been hit by more than two years of scandal and mismanagement, which ultimately led to the resignation of the previous mayor Ignazio Marino.

As noted on Monday's front page of Rome-based Il Messaggero, Raggi's win was part of the 5-Star's two victories that dealt a blow to Renzi's party. In the northern Italian city of Turin, Chiara Appendino scored a surprise win for the mayorship, defeating incumbent Piero Fassino.

The financial capital of Milan served as some respite for Renzi, where his party colleague Giuseppe "Beppe" Sala won a tight race against a center-right challenger.

blog

Rome Mayor Quits Amid Pressure

[rebelmouse-image 27089504 alt="""" original_size="750x1110" expand=1]

Il Messaggero, Oct. 9, 2015

The resignation of Ignazio Marino, Rome's embattled mayor, dominated headlines in Italy on Friday after months of rising political tensions in the capital and within the center-left Democratic party of both the mayor and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

"Marino, A Surrender Amid Venom," was the front-page headline in the Rome daily Il Messaggero.

Criticism of Marino, who took office in June 2013, centered around his inability to manage the city in the face of a spiraling corruption probe that has accused city officials of having links to organized crime. Though Marino himself hasn't been implicated, his perceived lack of leadership in the face of the crisis was becoming a major embarrassment to Renzi, who had been an ally of the mayor.

The clamor for his resignation finally grew too loud for him to continue, especially after revelations that Marino had claimed personal expenses as city business. There was also an embarrassing PR run-in with Pope Francis after the mayor boasted about his participation at the recent Catholic family gathering in Philadelphia.

Marino announced his resignation Thursday night in a video message, defending his record and declaring that he had the right to revoke the decision within 20 days depending on how "political conditions" evolve.