From the Strong and Prosperous Democratic People’s Republic Ministry (Department of Do As I Say, Not As I Do): North Korea has banned public smoking as part of an anti-tobacco campaign aimed at the country’s male population, 46 percent of whom are said to enjoy lighting up. (North Korean women aren’t an issue: officially, there’s not one smoker among them.) The problem is that the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, is also a supremely enthusiastic smoker. “In 2013 he was filmed trying out exercise equipment in a gymnasium, with a lit cigarette in hand,” noted The Times of London. Part of the motivation for the anti-smoking initiative is to reduce citizens’ vulnerability to the coronavirus. (Although that’s not really an issue, either: officially, there hasn’t been a single case in North Korea.)
The critical and commercial possibilities of a Broadway show called—let’s say—Lear! The Musical might have been much better if not for the bubonic plague. According to the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, an anonymous historical play called King Leir, which Shakespeare may have used as a source for his tragedy, had a happy ending—one that the playwright altered to suit the context of his times: in 1603, 30,000 people in London died of the plague, this at a time when the city’s population was roughly 200,000. “When it came to writing Lear in the 1600s,” the artistic director, Gregory Doran, told The Guardian, “he could not give the audiences a happy reconciliation between the king and his daughter, Cordelia.” Still, King Lear’s beyond-wrenching dénouement, all that wonderful “Howl, howl, howl!”-ing and “A plague [sic!] upon you, murderers, traitors all!,” is literature we’ll have forever—and all it cost us, in a sense, was a kickline.
The famous 50-odd cats that live in the Hermitage have much to commend them. For one thing, they spend a lot of their time mousing and relatively little taking selfies in front of the art. Maybe that was enough to inspire one French citizen to include the felines, whose forerunners first settled into the museum in the 18th century, in his will. At the moment, little is known about the benefactor or his bequest, though, as the Russian press notes, it’s more than welcome, given that the cats are donor-supported. “The man died and divided his inheritance between his close relatives, a French environmental organization, and the Hermitage cats, though [the cats’] part is small in comparison with the first two,” confirmed the cats’—might as well just say it—press secretary.
Where do you stand on metal detectors and the people who use them? It’s complicated, isn’t it? On the one hand … but, then again, on the other hand. Yes, finding cool stuff on beaches that other people have walked right past seems vaguely rewarding. But the weird-looking contraptions themselves, and the hours required marching around behind them while they chirp and buzz just to turn up a few bottle caps circa 2019, have kept the activity low on one’s to-do list. Nevertheless, Patrice T.—not his full name—apparently hit the jackpot in a town west of Brussels when he turned up some ancient Roman coins.
Here is where we have to define “some.” This treasure hunter, apparently working one field pretty thoroughly, found 14,154 ancient Roman coins. When authorities got wind of the haul, Belgian and French eyebrows were raised as one. “A subsequent raid by French officials on the man’s house allegedly revealed an astonishing hoard of 27,400 invaluable objects, ranging from bracelets and necklaces dating from the bronze and iron age to a hollow copper Roman dodecahedron of which there are only a hundred known copies,” reported The Guardian. “There were also Roman brooches known as fibulae, Merovingian and Renaissance belt buckles, parts of statues and Roman and Gallic coins — all of which are said to have been illegally unearthed in France.” In Flanders, such finds are considered private property, but in France they are considered part of the nation’s heritage. Mr. T. has been charged with looting, and if convicted faces fines and a possible prison sentence.
“Authentic Italian village encompassing the largest assemblage in Beverly Park,” reads the Hilton & Hyland Web site, and the Beverly Hills real-estate agency is indeed auctioning off Villa Firenze, said to be the most expensive home in the United States. (It’s been valued at $160 million.) But why auctioning? Well, the 20-bedroom, 23-bathroom Italianate mansion—owned by the billionaire Steven Udvar-Házy, who made his money leasing airplanes—which sprawls across four acres off Mulholland Drive (“Expansive gates open to a 30 car courtyard surrounded by 40 foot tall Canary Island palms and a setting worthy of the best Italian palazzo”), failed to sell when it was put on the market a couple of years ago. So, if you still haven’t been able to decide between buying a smallish Umbrian village or simply settling down in Beverly Hills, that vexing conundrum can be eliminated: the issue, happily, is no longer either/or.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for air mail