Years ago, there was a short-lived initiative in the U.S. to clear shopping-mall parking lots of loitering teenagers by blaring high-volume Muzak until they dispersed. Whether authorities in Rome’s suburbs had this approach in mind when they attempted recently to rid their piazzas of entrenched Mafia drug dealers isn’t known. In any event, hoping to scatter the undesirables, they unleashed upon them a kind of Operation Busker Storm, a performing-artists assault of poets, dancers, musicians, and jugglers—the nuclear option, should it ever come to that, would presumably involve mimes—with similarly mixed results. “In San Basilio, one woman screamed, ‘I want the dealers, not you’ at me, while mob bosses were filming people’s windows to see who opened their curtain to applaud,” Federica Angeli, the initiative’s organizer, admitted to The Times of London.
Still, there’s hope that the concept of deploying street performers to frighten away criminals might yet work. “In Tor Bella Monaca, where drug dealing is run by the Camorra from Naples, mobsters were less threatening, asking the musicians to play Neapolitan songs,” reported the newspaper, and in La Romanina some of the braver residents were moved to dance.
Russian convicts are set to begin—or, rather, resume—work on a railway-track expansion traversing the eastern part of the country to the Sea of Japan. If this sounds like the return of the gulag—the notorious, unfinished Stalin-era forced-labor project that cost thousands their lives—well, it isn’t. “This will not be the gulag,” declared Aleksandr Kalashnikov, the head of Russia’s penitentiary service, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “These will be completely new, decent conditions.” (That’s the cue to shift nervously in one’s seat.) Six hundred convicts begin work this month “as general laborers, concrete workers, and steel fixers,” reported the outlet. “Prison authorities say that 188,000 inmates … are eligible to exchange confinement for labor on major construction projects.”
After a recent state-news article spun the old Stalin camps as an unfairly misunderstood “social lift” for Soviet citizens lacking skills and education, human-rights activists were aghast. As Radio Free Europe quoted one blogger, “We’ve all lived to see it. The state news agency … is officially glorifying the GULAG.”
Stay with this: “The Queen of Paparazzi,” a Paris Match journalist, a powerful P.R. consultant, and three others have been arrested for allegedly persuading Amal Clooney’s uncle to commit perjury and retract his claim that he’d funneled $6 million in cash from Colonel Muammar Qaddafi to Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign. Mimi Marchand (the Paparazzi Queen), François de Labarre (the journalist), Arnaud de la Villesbrunne (a former director of the Publicis agency), and the others deny the charges, and de Labarre was later released.
“They are suspected of paying Ziad Takieddine, 70, a Franco-Lebanese arms broker”—the aforementioned uncle—“to give an interview to Paris Match in which he withdrew his earlier claim” that he’d moved the money to Sarkozy, according to The Times of London. “Police believe that Takieddine, whose assets have been seized by French judges, may have been paid to clear Sarkozy’s name,” and they suspect that Marchand, founder of the Bestimage photo agency, helped arrange the interview. “She is close to Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy,” noted the newspaper, “and is also thought to be on good terms with President Macron and his wife, Brigitte.”
An unassuming 29-year-old assistant professor in mathematics at Peking University is China’s newest social-media star. “Holding a giant bottle of water and a plastic bag full of steamed buns, a man with unkempt hair and awkward speech addressed the media,” reported the South China Morning Post. “Wei Dongyi … has grabbed the attention of tens of millions in mainland China after his extraordinary talent as a mathematician became a viral sensation online.” Asked to say something to encourage high-school graduates preparing for a university entrance exam, Wei offered, “Cheer up. Welcome to Peking University. I don’t know what else to say.”
In high school, Wei won international math competitions and “once refused an offer from Harvard to study as a PhD candidate,” said the newspaper. While the newfound attention has focused on Wei’s passions (the environment) and had some sport with his eccentricities (“He likes to check the dormitory’s water or electricity meter when he visits other people’s dormitory,” says a former classmate), his online fans like what they see. As one posted, “This kind of once-in-a-generation genius immerses himself in his own world. We will never get his joy.”
When the artist Keith Haring turned up at this city’s Ars Studio nightclub one night in 1989, only the D.J., César de Melero, seemed to know who he was. De Melero got him in, and the next night Haring returned and painted a mural inside the D.J. booth. The club closed in 1992 and reopened as a billiard hall, but the mural has survived. “If it wasn’t for me, it would have disappeared under a coat of paint,” the hall’s owner, Gabriel Carral, told The Guardian. But now that the building is to be replaced by a home for the elderly, the future of the Haring has become an issue.
Carral, who claims rights to the art on the walls, said that the mural has been valued at around $100,000 and that he hasn’t decided whether to sell it or donate it to the Keith Haring Foundation. But de Melero told the newspaper, “This painting should stay where it is. First it was in a night club, then a billiard hall, now a care home. Why not?” At any rate, it will continue to exist: according to a spokesperson for the Barcelona city council, “We have guaranteed the mural’s protection under the special urban plan and have asked the Generalitat [Catalan regional government] to declare it as part of our cultural heritage.”
Bond Street in Mayfair is home to countless luxury retailers and but a single human resident: Oli Claridge, a self-described “hand to mouth” garden designer who is neither interested in the aspirational opulence surrounding him nor particularly outraged by it, according to Billion Pound Bond Street, a documentary airing this week on Britain’s ITV.
The Bond Street apartment where Claridge has lived since 2006 (“courtesy of a protected lease inherited from his father,” according to The Guardian) once belonged to the spy Guy Burgess. “I’m a bit of an anomaly,” Claridge told the newspaper, presumably referring to the fact that, unlike his neighbors, he hasn’t been trademarked, branded, or franchised. (He doesn’t even have a fragrance!) Indeed, you won’t find a single Oli Claridge outpost on Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue, Causeway Bay, or anywhere else. The Bond Street Oli Claridge is the flagship Oli Claridge.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail