There are clear signs that Black Widow, the new Marvel superhero film starring a redheaded Scarlett Johansson, has infiltrated the culture. “According to the website Justmylook, there has been a 163% spike in demand for the colour since the release of Black Widow,” wrote AIR MAIL’s own Stuart Heritage in The Guardian, “presumably because lots of people sat through two hours and 14 minutes of a film about a woman grappling with the psychological torment of knowing she was part of a Soviet military programme that brainwashed, sterilised and murdered hundreds of abandoned girls, only to think: ‘Ooh, I bet I’d look lovely with her hair.’”
But everyone should tread carefully. Jeeves, as you surely recall, considered the color “dangerous,” and more than once had to warn Bertie Wooster away from getting involved with anyone—usually the alluring Bobbie Wickham—“with quite such a vivid shade of red hair.”
Financial information released by the Vatican for the first time reveals that it owns, apart from embassies, “4,051 properties in Italy and about 1,120 abroad,” according to The Guardian, including “investments in upmarket areas of London, Geneva, Lausanne and Paris”—although “only about 14% of its Italian properties were rented at market rates, while the others were rented at cut rates, many to church employees. About 40% were institutional buildings such as schools, convents and hospitals.”
However, one property in London’s South Kensington that was bought as an investment led to significant losses, and this week 10 people connected to that purchase, including a prominent cardinal, went on trial in the Vatican for “financial crimes including embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, extortion and abuse of office.”
Displaying a hitherto untapped flair for satire, Russia has lodged a complaint against Ukraine with the European Court of Human Rights. “The case concerns the Russian Government’s allegation of an administrative practice in Ukraine of, among other things, killings, abductions, forced displacement, interference with the right to vote, restrictions on the use of the Russian language and attacks on Russian embassies and consulates,” according to the E.C.H.R. Web site. “They also complain about the water supply to Crimea at the Northern Crimean Canal being switched off and allege that Ukraine was responsible for the deaths of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 because it failed to close its airspace.”
About a quarter of the other 60,000 or so pending cases in the 47-member European Court are against Russia, which leads the pack by far and presumably wanted to experience the novelty of being on the other side of a human-rights complaint. Plus, as The Moscow Times reported reassuringly, “the Russian prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it sought to ‘restore peace and harmony in Ukraine.’”
From over in that part of the world where statistics don’t matter, where knowledgeable experts are the least qualified people to make considered judgments, and minuscule risks always outweigh enormous benefits (especially if you’re self-absorbed enough to view global catastrophes through a strictly personal lens), Eric Clapton has issued a statement: “Following the PM’s announcement of Monday the 19th of July 2021 I feel honour bound to make an announcement of my own: I wish to say that I will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience present. Unless there is a provision made for all people to attend, I reserve the right to cancel the show.” Clapton’s stance appears to have been motivated by dismay at what he calls “propaganda,” his own “disastrous” reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine, and consorting with a fellow blinkered music legend, the notoriously anti-lockdown science skeptic Van Morrison. Play the blues, indeed.
That Harvey John carving you picked up in a Canadian art gallery—the black-red-and-white thing with the cool design? That’s right: it wasn’t cheap, but it was indigenous … except it wasn’t. And Harvey John, whose bright and pleasing work is ubiquitous in Canada, from museum gift shop all the way to mantelpiece, doesn’t exist. “Steve Hoffmann, an art dealer in Langley, British Columbia, admitted that John was not real but claimed that the carvings were created locally by a non-indigenous artist, whom he declined to name and blamed for the fake biography,” reported The Times of London. “Hoffmann said he initially thought the carver was indigenous but admitted that he chose to continue with the hoax after discovering the truth. He said he had compensated shops, where pieces sold for as much as £700 [$975].”
A group that investigates charges of fake indigenous art exposed Hoffmann, who apologized. “One way to look at it is, I was helping somebody make a living,” he told the CBC. “But another way to look at it was that it was a pseudonym. It was not accurate.” Canada has seen many such inaccuracies in recent years, most notoriously forgeries of the late indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau said to have amounted to some $30 million in ill-gotten gains.
Hitler’s horses belong to the German government, not to Rainer Wolf, a court has determined. The two bronze horses, produced by the Austrian sculptor Josef Thorak and weighing two tons each, had stood outside the Reich Chancellery, found their way to a Soviet Army barracks near Berlin in the 50s, and disappeared when the Berlin Wall did, in 1989. Wolf, an entrepreneur, had argued that he’d bought them lawfully from the Russian Army.
The German government plans to exhibit the bronzes, which, as The Times of London noted, might in itself prove controversial: an art historian said putting them on display would give them “too much honor,” while the culture minister argued that they should be seen as an example of Nazi propaganda. Arthur Brand, the art detective who tracked the sculptures down in a German warehouse in 2015, was quoted in the newspaper as follows: “After 2,000 years people will still be talking about the Nazi era and these were Hitler’s favorite statues…. We have tried to destroy everything, that seemed appropriate at the time because we wanted to forget, but you can’t erase history. People need to see it and feel it to understand.”
Certain other statues of horses don’t have an art opening to look forward to. The Taliban has apparently smashed some that were meant to amuse children in this district of Afghanistan, according to RepublicWorld.com, which cited this Twitter post from a Dr. Qasim Wafayezada: “These horse statues were built to entertain the children in Kishm of Badakhshan. Taliban destroyed the statues as un-Islamic! The course of time has not changed them.” Wafayezada, ID’d on Twitter as “Acting Minister of Information and Culture,” posted before-and-after photos of the statues. Although the Taliban “has vowed to make Afghanistan the world’s most pure Islamic- nation,” RepublicWorld.com noted, “Taliban officials … had earlier assured the UN delegation that the cultural sanctity of Afghanistan will be preserved.”
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail