The State Department has also stepped up efforts to examine the incidents that have left its personnel injured. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has received updates on the department’s investigation and has elevated the role of the coordinator overseeing that examination to better work with other departments, improve the response to the incidents and support injured personnel, a spokesman for the State Department said.

During the Trump administration, current and former officials expressed frustration with the government investigation. The State Department and C.I.A., they said, were not adequately sharing information. Some officials said there was tension between the two agencies.

Biden administration officials said that they had plans to fix that, and that the State Department, C.I.A., and other intelligence agencies would work better together to examine the incidents and their cause.

Gina Haspel, the former C.I.A. director, was not convinced by the evidence that Russia was responsible or that the series of incidents could be definitively classified as an attack, according to intelligence officials. But in December, Ms. Haspel formalized the work of ad hoc groups to create the task force, to re-examine earlier incidents and to collect information about new ones.

She also asked officers who thought they might have been victims but had not reported it to come forward to talk with the task force.

She also assigned the task force to help current and former officers get better treatment for injuries caused by their service with the C.I.A. Recent intelligence authorization bills based by Congress have allocated additional resources for current and former officers to receive medical treatment.

Some briefed on the new efforts said medical treatment is improving. Agency officials are now being assigned a nurse or other medical professional to help coordinate their care, including options to receive treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center or other specialized facilities.

But some current and former government officials said they remained uncertain that all of the bureaucratic hurdles to getting treatment have been removed. So far, only a handful of C.I.A. officers with Havana syndrome have been treated at Walter Reed.

Mr. Polymeropoulos, the former C.I.A. officer, helped run clandestine operations in Russia and Europe and experienced what he believes was an attack in December 2017 while on a trip to Moscow for the agency. The incident immediately caused severe vertigo that later developed into debilitating headaches.

When the headaches did not end, Mr. Polymeropoulos retired. He pushed for the agency to allow him to go to Walter Reed, which the agency initially resisted. But last month, Mr. Polymeropoulos completed a treatment course for traumatic brain injury, or T.B.I., at Walter Reed.

Mr. Polymeropoulos said Mr. Burns should meet with injured officers to hear their firsthand accounts as he begins reviewing the evidence of what happened and the medical response.

“Burns will in short order need to overcome a bureaucracy that has not been kind to those that have asked for medical care,” Mr. Polymeropoulos said. “Immediately opening the pathway to Walter Reed for any officers who request treatment — as T.B.I. gets worse over time — will show a level of dedication to the work force that has been sorely lacking.”

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BBC Apologizes for Interview With Cory Booker Impostor

The BBC has issued an apology and started an investigation after airing an interview with a man who posed as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The network said in a statement that the unidentified man was interviewed on the “Newshour” radio program last Friday, adding that the appearance appeared to have been a “deliberate hoax.”

The statement said that the BBC had apologized to Mr. Booker and that the company was looking into “what went wrong” to ensure it does not happen again.

The interview aired once, live at 3 p.m. Eastern and mostly in the United States and a few other places around the world, a spokesman for the BBC said on Thursday. A second edition of “Newshour,” which airs at 4 p.m., was also broadcast in the United States and around the world, but without the interview, he said.

one woman said.

At least one other person responded directly to the BBC on Twitter, saying, “I’m not sure who the BBC World Service just interviewed on Newshour about US relations with Saudi Arabia, but it definitely was not Senator Cory Booker.”

she said.

Mr. Booker, a Democrat, is no stranger to the topic the impostor spoke about. In 2019 he voted in support of resolutions disapproving arm sales to Saudi Arabia. The year before, Mr. Booker called the death of Mr. Khashoggi “appalling” and said he joined colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee to seek sanctions against anyone involved in the “horrific” act.

Stories of pranksters and impersonators finagling their way into news programs are not uncommon.

Last December, an animal-rights activist pretending to be the chief executive of Smithfield Foods conducted an interview with Maria Bartiromo, the host of the Fox Business show “Mornings With Maria.” At the end of the broadcast, Ms. Bartiromo issued a public correction saying, “It appears we have been punked.”

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In New York, as shoppers went online, Amazon went on a warehouse-buying spree.

As the pandemic gripped New York City, it propelled an enormous surge in online shopping. Amazon, the giant online retailer, went shopping too.

Amazon has spent the pandemic embarking on a warehouse shopping spree in New York, significantly expanding its footprint.

It has snatched up at least nine new warehouses in the city, including a behemoth rising in Queens that, at one million-plus square feet, will be its largest in New York, and today has at least 12 warehouses in the five boroughs. And it has added more than two dozen warehouses in suburbs surrounding the city.

No other large competitor has a single warehouse in the city and Amazon has largely left most of its chief rivals, like Walmart and Target, behind.

a gleaming new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

New York has about 128 million square feet of industrial space, far less than many smaller cities (not to mention narrow streets and a brutal lack of parking).

Many packages come to New York from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where there is room to build bigger and cheaper warehouses. And in the past year, Amazon has added 14 new warehouses in New Jersey and on Long Island, totaling more than seven million square feet.

But having warehouses in the city is more cost effective and can trim roughly 20 percent off delivery expenses compared with deliveries that originate in New Jersey. Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, has also used the grocery stores to fulfill online orders, with its workers often outnumbering store customers.

Roughly 2.4 million packages are delivered in New York City every day, nearly half a million more than before the pandemic, and city data shows that 80 percent of deliveries are to residential customers, compared with 40 percent before the outbreak.

“We are excited to continue to invest in the state of New York by adding new delivery stations,” said Deborah Bass, an Amazon spokeswoman, adding that the company’s goal was to “become part of the fabric of New York City by embracing the people, the needs, and the spirit of the community.”

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India’s Covaxin shots could be effective and safe, interim trial results suggest.

India’s ambitious but troubled campaign to inoculate its vast population against Covid-19 — and, in the process, to burnish its reputation as a manufacturer and innovator — received a major lift after initial trial results showed a homegrown vaccine was safe and effective.

Bharat Biotech, the Indian drug company that developed the shots, said late Wednesday that early findings from clinical trials involving nearly 26,000 subjects showed that the vaccine, Covaxin, had an initial efficacy rate of 81 percent.

The results have yet to be peer reviewed, the company said, and it was unclear how effective Covaxin would prove to be in a final analysis.

Still, the results were met with relief in India. Covaxin was approved by government officials in January and administered to millions of people even though it had not yet been publicly proved. Many in the country, including frontline health care workers, had feared that Covaxin could be ineffective or worse, slowing down the national campaign to inoculate 1.3 billion people.

approved Covaxin for emergency use in early January along with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is known in India as Covishield. When the vaccination drive started less than two weeks later, most people were not allowed to choose which shot they got.

sharp criticism from pharmaceutical bodies and health experts, who questioned the scientific logic behind approving a vaccine that was still in trials. Indian officials often denounced those doubts without explaining the rush. Instead, they portrayed the endorsement of Covaxin through a lens of nationalism, saying that it showed India’s emergence as a scientific power.

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The Latest Case of Vaccine Alarmism

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vaccine alarmism.

Many Americans are worried that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine is an inferior product that may not be worth getting. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota recently told The Washington Post that he was now seeing not only “vaccine hesitancy” but also “the potential for brand hesitancy.”

The perception stems from the headline rates of effectiveness of the three vaccines: 72 percent for Johnson & Johnson, compared with 94 percent for Moderna and 95 percent for Pfizer. But those headline rates can be misleading in a few ways.

The most important measure — whether the vaccine prevents serious illness — shows the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be equally effective as the other two. All work for nearly 100 percent of people. The picture is murkier for mild cases, but they are not particularly worrisome.

Today, I want to unpack the statistics about the three vaccines and explain why the current perception is a problem.

as Schaffner recounted to my colleague Denise Grady. “The virus is bad.”

The headline effectiveness numbers — like 72 percent — describe a vaccine’s ability to prevent all infections from this coronavirus, known as SARS-Cov-2. But preventing all infections is less important than it may sound. The world is not going to eliminate SARS-Cov-2 anytime soon. Coronaviruses circulate all the time, causing the common cold and other manageable illnesses.

The trouble with this virus is its lethality. It has killed 15 times as many Americans as an average flu season. Turning Covid into something more like a mild flu or common cold means victory over the pandemic.

All three vaccines being used in the U.S. are accomplishing that goal. In the research trials, none of the people who received a vaccine died of Covid. And after the vaccines had taken full effect, none were hospitalized, either.

In the real world, the vaccines won’t achieve quite as stellar outcomes. Still, the results are excellent — and equally excellent across the three, as Dr. Cody Meissner of the Tufts School of Medicine said during a recent F.D.A. meeting.

But why doesn’t Johnson & Johnson appear to be as good at preventing mild illness?

There are a few possible answers. For one, Johnson & Johnson’s research trials seem to have had a greater degree of difficulty. They occurred later than Moderna’s or Pfizer’s — after one of the virus variants had spread more widely. The variant appears to cause a greater number of mild Covid cases among vaccinated people than the original virus.

Second, Johnson & Johnson is currently only one shot, while Moderna and Pfizer are two shots. That happened mostly because of how strong the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is. Initial testing showed it to deliver impressive levels of immunity after only one shot, while the others required a booster, as Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explained to me.

The truth is that all of the vaccines seem to provide significant protection after a single shot. (Look at Britain, which is not rushing to give second shots and where cases and deaths continue to plummet.) Similarly, all three vaccines may benefit from a second shot.

I recognize that may make some people anxious about getting the single Johnson & Johnson shot, but it shouldn’t. If further data suggest that a second Johnson & Johnson shot would help, regulators can change their recommendation. Regardless, follow-up Covid shots may be normal in the future.

What’s the bottom line? A single Johnson & Johnson shot may indeed allow a somewhat larger number of mild Covid cases than two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. It’s hard to be sure. And it isn’t very important.

the governor said, “and would just once again encourage Iowans, when you get the opportunity, please take advantage of it.”

Soon the wind will pay the bills.

From Opinion: A pandemic baby boom? More like a baby bust.

Lives Lived: The Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s fluid, elegant work owed much to calligraphy, but she also complemented its ancient serenity with the influence of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. She died at 107.

would no longer publish six of his lesser-known books because they contained offensive imagery. The decision ignited a debate over how an author’s works should be changed — if at all — to reflect evolving attitudes.

The move is part of an effort led by librarians and scholars to re-evaluate children’s classics in recent decades. Some libraries have withdrawn editions of illustrated series like “Tintin” and “Babar” for portraying nonwhite characters as savages. The Oompa Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were originally dark-skinned pygmies from Africa, until Roald Dahl revised his work in the 1970s in response to criticism from the N.A.A.C.P.

“Children’s publishers and literary estates are trying to walk a delicate line by preserving an author’s legacy, while recognizing and rejecting aspects of a writer’s work that are out of step with current social and cultural values,” The Times’s Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris write. Read their story here.

in these dumplings.

“25 Years of Rent: Measured in Love” is a virtual fund-raiser, tribute and a reminder that the musical remains inspiring in hard times. You can watch it through Saturday.

play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Because of (five letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. When did you know the pandemic would change your life? The Times wants to hear your story.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the state of the pandemic. On “Sway,” Stacey Abrams discusses voting rights.

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‘Locked’ letter sealed 300 years ago is finally opened

Three hundred years ago, before envelopes, passwords and security codes, writers often struggled to keep thoughts, cares and dreams expressed in their letters private.

One popular way was to use a technique called letter locking — intricately folding a flat sheet of paper to become its own envelope. This security strategy presented a challenge when 577 locked letters delivered to The Hague in the Netherlands between 1689 and 1706 were found in a trunk of undelivered mail.

The letters had never reached their final recipients, and conservators didn’t want to open and damage them. Instead, a team has found a way to read one of the letters without breaking its seal or unfolding it in any way. Using a highly sensitive X-ray scanner and computer algorithms, researchers virtually unfolded the unopened letter.

This is a computer-generated unfolding sequence of a sealed letter from 17th-century Europe. Virtual unfolding was used to read the letter's contents without physically opening it.

This is a computer-generated unfolding sequence of a sealed letter from 17th-century Europe. Virtual unfolding was used to read the letter’s contents without physically opening it. Credit: Courtesy of the Unlocking History Research Group archive

“This algorithm takes us right into the heart of a locked letter,” the research team said in a statement.

“Sometimes the past resists scrutiny. We could simply have cut these letters open, but instead we took the time to study them for their hidden, secret, and inaccessible qualities. We’ve learned that letters can be a lot more revealing when they are left unopened.”

The technique revealed the contents of a letter dated July 31, 1697. It contains a request from Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant in The Hague, for a certified copy of a death notice of Daniel Le Pers.

Written in French, the letter was translated into English as part of the study. There is some missing text that the researchers said was likely due to wormholes in the paper.

Dear sir & cousin,

It has been a few weeks since I wrote to you in order to ask you to have drawn up for me a legalized excerpt of the death of sieur Daniel Le Pers, which took place in The Hague in the month of December 1695, without hearing from you. This is f…g I am writing to you a second time in order to remind you of the pains that I took on your behalf. It is important to me to have this extract you will do me a great pleasure to procure it for me to send me at the same time news of your health of all the family.

This 17th century trunk of undelivered letters was bequeathed to the Dutch postal museum in The Hague in 1926. A letter from this trunk was scanned by X-ray microtomography and virtually unfolded to reveal its contents for the first time in centuries.

This 17th century trunk of undelivered letters was bequeathed to the Dutch postal museum in The Hague in 1926. A letter from this trunk was scanned by X-ray microtomography and virtually unfolded to reveal its contents for the first time in centuries. Credit: Courtesy of the Unlocking History Research Group archive

I also pray that God maintains you in His Sainted graces & covers you with the blessings necessary to your salvation. Nothing more for the time being, except that I pray you to believe that I am completely, sir and cousin, your most humble & very obedient servant,

Jacques Sennacques

The details may seem prosaic, but the researchers said the letter gives fascinating insight into the lives of ordinary people — a snapshot of the early modern world as it went about its business.

The researchers said that Sennacques, a legal professional in Lille, required an official death certificate for his relation Daniel Le Pers, perhaps due to a question of inheritance. It’s not known why Le Pers did not receive Sennacques’ letter, but given the itinerancy of merchants, the study said it was likely that LePers had moved on.

The trunk of correspondence belonged to a postmaster called Simon de Brienne and his wife, postmistress Marie Germain. It was acquired by the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague in 1926.

In addition to the unopened letters, it contains 2,571 opened letters and fragments that for one reason or another never reached their destination.

At that time, there was no such thing as a postage stamp and recipients, not senders, were responsible for the postal and delivery charges. If the recipient was deceased or rejected the letter, no fees could be collected and the letters weren’t delivered.

A new way to mine historical documents

The X-ray scanners were originally designed to map the mineral content of teeth and have been used in dental research — until now.

“We’ve been able to use our scanners to X-ray history,” said study author David Mills, a researcher at Queen Mary University of London, in a statement.

“The scanning technology is similar to medical CT scanners, but using much more intense X-rays which allow us to see the minute traces of metal in the ink used to write these letters. The rest of the team were then able to take our scan images and turn them into letters they could open virtually and read for the first time in over 300 years.”

The letter contains a message from Jacques Sennacques dated July 31, 1697, to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant. Also visible is a watermark in the center containing an image of a bird.

The letter contains a message from Jacques Sennacques dated July 31, 1697, to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, a French merchant. Also visible is a watermark in the center containing an image of a bird. Credit: Courtesy of the Unlocking History Research Group archive

The new technique has the potential to unlock new historical evidence from the Brienne trunk and other collections of unopened letters and documents, the study said.

One tantalizing application could be to virtually unfold sealed items and letters in the Prize Papers — an archive of documents confiscated by the British from enemy ships between the 17th and 19th centuries.

“Using virtual unfolding to read an intimate story that has never seen the light of day — and never even reached its recipient — is truly extraordinary,” the researchers said in the statement.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

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Navalny’s Path From Russian Gadfly to Heroic Symbol

MOSCOW — While waiting out the coronavirus lockdown in his two-bedroom apartment last spring, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny seemed uncharacteristically idle, with his most potent weapon against the Kremlin — street protests — off the table.

And yet, Mr. Navalny felt that President Vladimir V. Putin’s grip on power might be slipping. Operating from his living room, rather than the slick Moscow studio he had used before, he cranked out videos haranguing Mr. Putin for failing to manage the coronavirus crisis and leaving Russians struggling as the economy suffered. Confirming his hunch that the pandemic could become a political catalyst, the audience for Mr. Navalny’s YouTube videos tripled, to 10 million viewers per month.

“Putin can’t handle all this madness, and you can see that he is totally out of his depth,” Mr. Navalny said in an interview by Zoom in May. “We are continuing to hit them where it hurts.”

Methodical and uncompromising, Mr. Navalny, 44, has spent almost half his life trying to unseat Mr. Putin. Often deemed rude, brusque and power hungry, even by other Kremlin critics, he persisted while other opposition activists retreated, emigrated, switched sides, went to prison or were killed. It increasingly became a deeply personal fight, with the stakes — for Mr. Navalny and his family, as well as for Mr. Putin and all of Russia — rising year by year.

sentenced this month to more than two years in prison for violating parole on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Europe’s top human rights court ruled was politically motivated.

Even in custody, though, he has seized the moment. Two days after his arrest at a Moscow airport last month, his team released a report about a purported secret palace built for Mr. Putin that was viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube. Two weeks later, from his glassed-in prisoner’s box at Moscow City Court, Mr. Navalny predicted that Russians would eventually rise up and prevail against Mr. Putin, a “thieving little man,” because “you can’t lock up the whole country.”

An independent poll found that while 80 percent of Russians had heard of the protests that swept the country last month calling for his release only 22 percent approved of them.

“Putin and his regime spend millions of man hours on strengthening their power,” Mr. Navalny wrote last year, criticizing some of his fellow opposition figures as insufficiently hard-working. “We will only take them down if we spend tens of millions of man hours.”

Mr. Navalny has rarely shirked from confrontation or let himself be scared off course by the Kremlin’s security apparatus. In recent years, a pro-Putin activist threw an emerald green chemical in his face, nearly costing him the sight of one eye; his younger brother served three and a half years in prison in a case widely seen as a punishment against Mr. Navalny; and he nearly died in last year’s poisoning, spending weeks in a coma.

All the while he was building up a social media audience in the millions and a nationwide network of regional offices — an unparalleled achievement in a country dominated by security services beholden to Mr. Putin.

drawing 27 percent of the vote in the 2013 election for mayor of Moscow — Mr. Navalny grew more angry at Mr. Putin, people close to him say, and even more determined to bring him down.

covered Mr. Navalny extensively. “He was just radiating that anger.”

Mr. Navalny, the son of a Red Army officer, grew up in the 1980s in closed military towns outside Moscow, a world away from the intellectual and political ferment that gripped the capital in the last years of the Soviet Union. His father despised Soviet rule, and his mother, an accountant, became an early devotee of the liberal Yabloko party in the 1990s despite its perpetually dismal electoral results.

As a boy, he hated being told what to do. When he got in trouble with his teacher, his mother, Lyudmila I. Navalnaya, once recalled, he refused to go to school the next day, saying: “I don’t want anyone to force me to learn.”

He studied law and finance, worked as a real estate lawyer, and joined Yabloko in 2000, the year Mr. Putin was first elected president. He looked for ways to organize grass-roots opposition to the Kremlin at a time when the established opposition parties were coming to play only a theatrical role in Mr. Putin’s tightly choreographed political system known as managed democracy.

bought stock in state-owned companies, using his standing as a shareholder to force disclosures, and railed against Putin-supporting business tycoons on a blog that was widely read in Moscow’s financial circles.

a video report about the hidden wealth of Dmitri A. Medvedev, the prime minister at the time. Overruling his aides’ skepticism over whether those who watched the video would take to the streets, he called for protests, and thousands rallied in more than 100 cities.

The Kremlin tried its best to muzzle Mr. Navalny through constant harassment, but it never entirely squelched him — both to avoid making a martyr of him and to provide a way for society’s discontents to blow off some steam. That approach already seems to have been discarded in favor of greater repression; state television, which long mostly ignored Mr. Navalny, now dedicates lengthy reports to painting him as an agent of the West.

Besides the 2014 conviction for embezzlement, Mr. Navalny endured many smaller humiliations, Ms. Albats, the radio host, recalls: among them ubiquitous, privacy-destroying surveillance and the gratuitous cruelty of confiscating his daughter’s beloved iPad. She said that the support, endurance and conviction of his wife, Yulia B. Navalnaya, kept him going. And his fight against Mr. Putin became ever more personal.

“He had this choice: stay in politics, and keep creating trouble for his family, his brother’s family, his parents,” Ms. Albats said. “Of course, it leads to the hardening of your heart.”

The authorities barred him from running in the 2018 presidential election, but he still crisscrossed the country, opening more than 80 regional offices and agitating for a boycott of an election he saw as rigged to give Mr. Putin a fourth term. He organized nationwide protests and poll-watching efforts, and built up an investigative team that pored through public records and social media to document the questionable dealings of the Russian elite.

mass protests gripped neighboring Belarus as well as Russia’s Far East, pointing to growing risks for Mr. Putin.

Then, in August, Mr. Navalny collapsed on a flight over Siberia, screaming in pain. Western laboratories later determined that he had been poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent — Mr. Putin denies any involvement — and survived thanks to the pilots who made an emergency landing and the medical workers who first treated him in the city of Omsk.

He was airlifted to Germany for treatment. Soon after coming out of a coma, he re-engaged with the world’s political debates. He slammed Twitter’s decision to silence then-President Trump’s account as an “unacceptable act of censorship.”

And in recent weeks, Mr. Navalny has done his best to exude optimism.

“Everything will be OK,” Ms. Albats said he wrote to her from jail. “And even if it won’t be, we will console ourselves with the knowledge that we were honest people.”

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The Italian town where they eat 500-year-old meals

(CNN) — The signs of the Renaissance are everywhere in Italy.

Grand piazzas and palazzos. Metal-spiked doors. Looming archways. And, of course, all that ever-present art in the churches and galleries.

But in one city, you also get a taste of the Renaissance every time you enter a restaurant.

Ferrara, in the northern region of Emilia Romagna, was once home to the Estense court, or House of Este, which ruled the city from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

The court, on the bank of the River Po, was one of the most formidable cultural powers during the Renaissance. Writers including Boiardo, Ariosto and Torquato Tasso were employed by the court, and artists such as Bellini, Mantegna and Piero della Francesco worked for the Este family in their domineering, moat-surrounded castle in the center of town.

Their works have survived the centuries — but so have those of Cristoforo di Messisbugo, the court’s master of ceremonies and steward.

Messisbugo was one of two celebrity chefs of the Renaissance, and his prowess with multicourse banquets to impress visiting heads of state and fill the bellies of the Este great and good, led to him writing one of the world’s earliest cookbooks.

His tome, “Banchetti, composizioni di vivande e apparecchio generale” (“Banquets, Recipes and Table-laying”) was published in 1549, a year after he died. In it, as well as sample dinner menus and drinks pairings, he lists 300 recipes.

And it’s thanks to Messisbugo that that, nearly five centuries later, the Ferraresi are still eating the Estes’ favorite meals.

Because while every town in Italy has its signature dishes, Ferrara’s are straight from the cookbook of that 16th-century court.

Yes, these dishes are real

Salama da sugo, a centuries-old sausage and mash.

Salama da sugo, a centuries-old sausage and mash.

Archivo Fotografico Provincia di Ferrara

First things first. To enjoy Ferrara’s best known dishes, you don’t want to visit in summer. And you’ll want an elasticated waistband — because the signature food here is heavy.

The city’s best known dishes are pasticcio — effectively a pie filled with macaroni cheese, meat ragu, and bechamel sauce — salama da sugo, a centuries-old kind of sausage and mash, and cappellacci di zucca, pumpkin-stuffed pasta.

Each, though, has a twist. Pasticcio’s pie crust is sweet — yes, a meat pie in sweet pastry — while salama da sugo is a kilo-heavy salami that’s soaked in water for several days and then boiled for 10 hours to soften it into a spicy, spreadable meat that’s then served on mashed potato.

Meanwhile, that super-sweet pumpkin pasta is usually slathered with meat ragu on top.

All date back to the Renaissance. In fact, salama da sugo was said to be the favorite dish of Lucrezia Borgia — yes, that Lucrezia Borgia — who came to Ferrara in 1502 when she married the Duke, Alfonso d’Este.

In fact, her famously long, blonde, curly locks are said to be the inspiration for another of Ferrara’s famous foods: the coppia, a spiraling, four-horned bread roll, like two croissants welded together. It was supposedly created by Messisbugo for a banquet in honor of Lucrezia.

Sergio Perdonati is at work by 3 a.m. each morning to bake around 1,000 coppie per day, such is his devotion to the bread. “I think it’s one of the best breads in the world,” he says proudly.

His grandfather, Otello, started the family bakery, Panificio Perdonati, 90 years ago — Sergio’s sourdough starter is Otello’s original, which has survived the bakery’s bombing in the Second World War, and two property moves. All the rolls are formed by hand and the dough is made using vintage mixing machines.

Today, they’ve branched out into the sweet stuff — including panpepato, a cake also dating back to the Renaissance, made with chunks of almonds and orange peel, and covered in dark chocolate.

Think Renaissance cocktail flairers

Cappellacci di zucca -- pumpkin-stuffed pasta.

Cappellacci di zucca — pumpkin-stuffed pasta.

Archivo Fotografico Provincia di Ferrara

People have always come to Ferrara to eat.

“For sure, other courts had banquets, but Ferrara was particularly well known for them,” says Dr Federica Caneparo, a historian at the University of Chicago specializing in the culture of the Italian Renaissance.

“It was especially refined, and food and banquets were a demonstration of power in front of their guests, some of whom would be ambassadors from other courts.”

Italian courts had a raft of foodie professions, including the “scalco” (like Messisbugo, the supervisor), the “bottigliere” (an ancient sommelier) and the “trinciante” — the “carver”, who would put on a show for the entire table by carving meat or vegetables held in the air on a giant fork (think of a Renaissance cocktail flairer, only with knives and sides of beef instead of bottles).

“They were trusted people close to the Duke,” says Caneparo. “Usually gentiluomini [nobles] by birth, or by merit. The scalco was responsible for organizing banquets and, on ordinary days, the household. The trinciante also had to be a trusted person — after all, he was right next to the master of the house with all those big knives.”

Ferrara’s banquets were so famous, in fact, that poet Ludovico Ariosto included a description of one in his epic work “Orlando Furioso,” she says. And no wonder — she says that they were “spectacular, with music, dance, theater, and sculptures made of sugar or ice. They’d start with a play, or music, or both, and then they’d prepare the table.” And forget our single-figure tasting menus — these banquets could have well over 100 courses.

Mac and cheese with a sugary twist

Pasticcio is a pie filled with macaroni cheese, meat ragu, and bechamel sauce.

Pasticcio is a pie filled with macaroni cheese, meat ragu, and bechamel sauce.

Archivo Fotografico Provincia di Ferrara

With so much food to choose from you can be sure that the dishes to have made it into modern Ferrarese cooking are the classics.

At the modern Ca’ d’Frara restaurant, guests sit on hip mustard-colored chairs and cream banquettes to eat these centuries-old dishes.

And those used to molecular cuisine might find Renaissance gastronomy equally boundary-pushing.

“You often find this sweet-savory combination in the Estense cuisine — it’s unique,” says chef Elia Benvenuti. His pasticcio is an intriguing mix of a dense, meaty mac and cheese, wrapped in a cookie-sweet crust. You approach it with trepidation — how can this ever taste good? — but, somehow, it works. The sweet crust even seems to cut through the richness of the white ragu and bechamel sauce.

“They’re symbols of the city — part of our DNA,” says chef of the traditional dishes. “I think Lucrezia [Borgia] would be happy,” adds his maître d’ wife, Barbara.

Sweetening up the savory

italian renaissance food-6

Sweet dishes include panpepato, a cake made with chunks of almonds and orange peel, and covered in dark chocolate

Archivo Fotografico Provincia di Ferrara

A few minutes’ walk away, locals are spilling into Ristorante Raccano, in a 15th-century cloister. Some are here for meat cooked in the oh-so-21st-century Josper oven — what owner Laura Cavicchio describes as “one of the most technically advanced grilling machines.” But others? They’re here for Lucrezia’s beloved salama da sugo.

This is normally one of Ferrara’s more savory dishes — the salama is so heavily spiced, it hardly needs sugar.

But Cavicchio and her children, Gabriella and Luca Montanari, like to take it right back to its Este roots by serving it with fried custard.

The salama — made with different cuts of the pig including neck, belly, liver and tongue, with neck fat binding it all together — is seasoned with spices including cloves, cinnamon, red wine and Ferrara’s ubiquitous spice, nutmeg.

It’s then aged in a pork casing for around a year, soaked in water for three days to soften it up, and then boiled for up to 10 hours.

By that point, it’s as soft as jam, and chef Luca scoops it out, sprinkles it on top of potato mash, and adds mostarda (like a sweet chutney), plus the crowning glory: a cube of fried custard.

“This isn’t a reinterpretation — in the old recipes, you find it served with custard,” says Cavicchio, who’s combed through Renaissance recipes and history books to make it authentic.

Alongside modern dishes, they also serve “Crostino alla Messisbugo” — chicken liver and sauteed herbs pate, smeared on toasted bread. It’s another hit from the great man’s recipe book.

Meanwhile, their cappellacci di zucca — handrolled pasta pillows, like oversized tortellini, filled with sweet pumpkin and nutmeg — come drenched in meat ragu and topped with parmesan cheese. Again, it’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but does. Alone, the cappellacci are offputtingly sweet to 21st-century tastes. Douse them with meat and cheese, though, and it slices through the sweetness, while amping up the taste of the sauce.

Ferrrara was ruled by the powerful House of Este from the 13th to 18th centuries.

Ferrrara was ruled by the powerful House of Este from the 13th to 18th centuries.

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The Estes’ signature “agrodolce” (sweet-savory) flavor was a conservation method, says Cavicchio. “People had vinegar, wine and salt. Marco Polo used it.” And although at the restaurant they use modern techniques, including that Josper oven, they want to keep the tastes as similar as possible to their heritage.

“Over the years I’ve acquired a way of interpreting a recipe — I change the cooking techniques and some of the ingredients, but you need to know the product to do that,” says Cavicchio. Born just over the border in Veneto, where agrodolce flavors are also fundamental, she reads as many books about the Estes’ food habits as she can and experiments to keep the final product as authentic as possible.

“Messisbugo was studious,” she says. “He invented recipes with the ingredients he had and the methods available to him. He didn’t have a fridge, so he used vinegar, wine and sugar. We’re much luckier, but I think he’d still appreciate what we do. For us, [the heritage] is a richness.”

The modern day foodie courtiers

Ferrara's local bread is supposedly inspired by Lucrezia Borgia's hair.

Ferrara’s local bread is supposedly inspired by Lucrezia Borgia’s hair.

Archivo Fotografico Provincia di Ferrara

Like everywhere in Italy, restaurants and food heritage are important to the locals. Over at Da Noemi — a restaurant named after his grandmother, who opened up by herself in 1956 — 23-year-old Giovanni Matteucci has a hobby unlike many people his age. He buys antique copies of Ferrarese history and recipe books.

“Sweetness was synonymous with the food of the rich,” he explains. “They used lots of spices and sugar to show off their wealth.” Even recipes for glammed-up egg yolk, and lasagne, had sugar and cinnamon on top, he says.

And although he says it isn’t proven that Lucrezia Borgia really did love salama da sugo above all else, we do know that she adored apples — from the shopping list she compiled for her country estate. “She ordered loads of apples and different varieties,” he says. “It’s also said that she liked garlic.”

At Da Noemi, Giovanni and his mom, Maria Cristina Borgazzi, run the kitchen. Brother Luca, meanwhile, is the maître d — the modern equivalent of Messisbugo. In fact, Luca takes his role as master of ceremonies so seriously that he’s decided that their reduced pandemic seating plan will stay forever. “We can pay more attention to the client this way,” he says.

Speak to anyone in Ferrara, and they’ll wax lyrical about their pride in their food heritage. Yet, although Italians flock to the city to eat cappellacci, pasticcio, salama da sugo and coppie, the dishes have never really conquered the rest of Italy, as other regional dishes like pizza or tortellini have.

Not that the Ferraresi care.

“Ferrara is beautiful because of the Este family, and it’s the same for their dishes,” says Giovanni Matteucci. “People come to Ferrara for this, and we have to protect it.

“Italy is based on its history. We don’t have Silicon Valley — this is our richness.”

And, of course, their sweetness. Eating like Renaissance courtiers, here, is the most modern thing they can do.

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Queen’s award honors young ‘agent for change’

Written by Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

Emerging British fashion designer Priya Ahluwalia, whose work is setting a new standard for ethical fashion design, has won the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.

The annual prize, now in its fourth year, was presented by the Queen’s daughter-in-law Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, during a virtual event at London Fashion Week on Tuesday.

A statement issued by the British Fashion Council (BFC), the organization responsible for working with the royal household to select a winner, called the young designer a “progressive thinking leader and agent for change.”

Ahluwalia launched her namesake brand in 2018, having first attracted industry attention for her photobook “Sweet Lassi.” The book, released alongside a graduate collection for her masters degree in menswear, chronicled the designer’s eye-opening trips to Nigeria and India, where she witnessed the scale of the second-hand garment industry and the volume of waste clothing generated by consumers.

Piles of clothing in Panipat photographed in 'Sweet Lassi'

Piles of clothing in Panipat photographed in ‘Sweet Lassi’ Credit: Priya Ahluwalia

In an interview with CNN last year, the London-based designer, who is of both Indian and Nigerian heritage, said her interest in sustainable design was piqued during a trip to see family in Lagos. There, she noticed market traders wearing obscure items of clothing from overseas, such as a T-shirt from the 2012 London Marathon.

“I was intrigued and dug deeper, moving forward on a hunch that the presence of these textiles heralded a larger story,” she said.

Her research led her to the city of Panipat, north of Delhi, which serves as a huge hub for garment recycling and is often referred to as the “cast-off capital” of the world. “I was fascinated and also worried about how much we throw away,” Ahluwalia said. “Visiting Panipat was life-changing and I decided to start my brand with sustainable principles.”

“Sweet Lassi” paired images of people sitting among piles of old clothing in recycling facilities with studio shots of models wearing her own avant-garde styles.

Ahluwalia’s menswear uses vintage and deadstock fabrics, blending sportswear with more classically tailored silhouettes. Her innovative approach has seen her win several notable awards in recent years, including the H&M Design Prize in 2019. She was also one of eight brands to jointly win the prestigious LVMH Prize in 2020.

Ahluwalia Autumn-Winter 2020

Ahluwalia Autumn-Winter 2020 Credit: Dominika Scheibinger

Photography continues to play an important role in Ahluwalia’s work, which melds conceptual design with narrative storytelling — often with a keen focus on materials and people. “I feel more like a multidisciplinary creative … I also like the idea of storytelling and creating a world for anyone who is interested,” she said.

During London Fashion Week last June, Ahluwalia published another book, “Jalebi,” which also drew on her own heritage. Working with photographer Laurence Ellis, she put West London’s Punjabi community front and center by documenting daily life in the diverse Southall neighborhood. According to Ahluwalia, whose mother is Punjabi, the resulting images were a tribute to multiculturalism in Britain.

“Brexit had just happened as well as the Windrush scandal and there was an increasingly hostile environment for ethnic minorities,” she explained. “I wanted to create a piece of work that celebrated the beauty in diversity.”

Still from Ahluwalia's digital exhibition and book 'Jalebi'

Still from Ahluwalia’s digital exhibition and book ‘Jalebi’ Credit: Ahluwalia/Laurence Ellis

In Ahluwalia’s Autumn-Winter 2021 collection, her latest sustainably made designs, created with a palette of rich brown shades and deep jewel tones, were presented in the form of a short film directed by Stephen Isaac Wilson on Saturday. In “Traces,” a cast of models move in mesmerizing synchrony, conjuring up images of — in the designer’s words — “migration, brotherhood and unity,” as they perform choreography by Holly Blakey, set to a score composed by musician Cktrl.
A look from Ahluwalia Autumn-Winter 2021

A look from Ahluwalia Autumn-Winter 2021 Credit: Laurence Ellis

The Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design recognizes the fashion industry’s role in society and diplomacy. It honors young designers whose work makes a positive impact through sustainable practices or community engagement.

BFC chief executive Caroline Rush praised Ahluwalia’s efforts to give back to communities around London and abroad, calling her an “inspiration” to young British designers.

During the virtual presentation of the award on Tuesday, Ahluwalia described the win as “surreal,” adding “it’s lovely to be recognized for doing something you love.”

Richard Quinn won the inaugural award in 2018, with the Queen making a surprise appearance in the front row at his London Fashion Week show to present the award. Rosh Mahtani, founder of jewelry brand Alighieri, and fashion designer Bethany Williams are the prize’s other previous winners.

London Fashion Week runs Friday 19 to Tuesday 23 February, and is entirely digital this season due to the ongoing pandemic.

(Top image: A portrait of Priya Ahluwalia by Laurence Ellis)

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The Louvre is shut but it’s buzzing with activity

Written by Saskya Vandoorne, CNNParis, France

Contributors Mark EsplinAntonella Francini

As the world’s most visited museum awakens, escalators that once carried up to 40,000 pairs of feet a day loop quietly through the empty lobby.
Lockdown restrictions shuttered the Louvre in late October, leaving world-famous artworks like “Venus de Milo,” “Liberty Leading the People” and the “Mona Lisa” without their usual crowds of admirers.

But they’re not completely alone — the museum is making the most of the closures by carrying out long-planned renovations.

“(The Louvre) is still living, even though it seems really asleep from the outside,” says project manager Gautier Moysset, standing in front of a set of 19th-century doors that once opened onto the bedchamber of French kings.

Behind him, Gaëlle Dulac is carefully bringing the doors back to life, switching between paintbrushes made from hog bristle and badger hair as she recreates the grain of the wood with layers of paint.

She is one of a team of experts and artisans that has been working five days a week to refurbish the renaissance palace. Also among them is curator Côme Fabre, who is overseeing the re-mounting of “Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea,” by French artist Hippolyte Flandrin. Under Fabre’s watchful eye, four men balance on scaffolding and hoist the painting of a curled-up young man into position.
The "Mona Lisa" alone in the Louvre without visitors.

The “Mona Lisa” alone in the Louvre without visitors.

The curator says the quiet period has helped him reconsider how the Louvre displays its vast collection.

“All of a sudden a painting seems too big (or) too small, or the frame doesn’t fit with the ones nearby,” he explains. “You have to listen to what the works have to say. Sometimes they don’t like each other and you have to separate them.”

Curator Julien Cuny is also using the opportunity to reflect on the Persian collections he oversees.

“There needs to be a coherence in the museum. What is the work doing here? How is it speaking to the other works?” he says, guiding a forklift carrying a 400-kilogram (882-pound) stele through a passageway lined with Roman marble sculptures.

While thankful for the time he has been given, Cuny knows the Louvre has taken a huge hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, the museum lost over 90 million euros ($109 million) in revenue and experienced a 72% drop in visitors.

“It’s sad because from a logistical point of view, we can do a lot,” Cuny says. “But the artworks, they were made to be seen.”

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