KYIV — The rave had been planned for weeks, with the space secured and the D.J.s, the drinks, the invites and the security all lined up.
But after a recent missile strike far from the front lines killed more than 25 people, including children, in central Ukraine, an attack that deeply unsettled all Ukraine, the rave organizers met to make a hard, last-minute decision. Should they postpone the party?
They decided: No way.
“That’s exactly what the Russians want,” said Dmytro Vasylkov, one of the organizers.
a city that already enjoyed a reputation for being cool, it gets easier to find a party. A hip-hop event the other night became a sea of bobbing heads. The party was held outdoors. For a spell, it started raining. But that didn’t matter. The party was on. On the dance floor, bodies were bumping.
Pink Freud, a bar, the war keeps coming up. Small talk between a young woman and Mr. Chehorka, the bartender, who also works as a psychotherapist, led to a conversation about hobbies that led to a discussion about books that led, inexorably, to the Russians.
Mr. Chehorka told the young woman that he was selling his large collection of Russian language books because he never wanted to read Russian again.
“This is my own war,” he explained.
He added that he felt the city’s whole psyche had changed. “Kyiv’s different now,” he said. “People are more polite, more friendly. They’re not drinking as hard.”
A yearning for close connection, for something meaningful amid a seismic, terrifying event that won’t end, is what brought two dozen people to a recent“cuddle” party.
Cuddle parties started before the war, but the people who came two Sundays ago — a mix of men and women from their early 20s to mid-60s — said they really needed them now.
The cuddlers gathered in a large, tent-like structure near the river, and as new age music played, they lied on floor cushions in a big warm heap. Some stroked their neighbor’s hair. Others clutched each other tightly, eyes closed, like it was the last embrace they’d ever share with anyone. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the heap stirred awake.
The cuddlers opened their eyes, untangled themselves, stood up and smoothed out their pants. The whole idea is to seek bodily comfort from curling up with a stranger. They found new cuddling partners and new positions.
The instructor was clear that none of this was supposed to be sexual or romantic. But still, it looked like a G-rated orgy.
This cuddling is another dimension of Kyiv’s party scene at the moment: Many social gatherings are specifically engineered to provide solace.
Maksym Yasnyi, a graphic designer, just held a 24-hour yoga party, which he said was “really cool” but it wasn’t like going out before the war.
“Before the war, Kyiv nightlife was sparkling with different colors,” he said. “You could spend the whole night going from party to party. If I allow myself to think about this, I’ll make myself really upset.”
Now, when it hits 10, Kyiv radiates a nervous energy. People drinking on the street, or out by the river, check their watches. They cap the clear plastic bottles of cider they were swigging, get up and walk quickly.
Cars move faster. More run yellow lights. The clock is ticking.
Uber prices triple, if you can find one.
Some young people, seeing the impossibility of hailing a ride, say bye to their friends and duck their heads and start running home, desperate to beat curfew.
At the stroke of 11, Kyiv stops. Nothing moves. The sidewalks lie empty.
All that energy that was building, building, building, suddenly plunges into a stunning, citywide hush.
China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.
A tech entrepreneur wrote in a big group chat in May that many members were too critical. “What people here do every day is criticizing the government and the system,” she wrote. “I can’t see any entrepreneurship in this.”
A top venture capitalist told his nearly nine million social media followers that as much as everyone had suffered from the pandemic, they should try to stay away from negative news and information.
zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.
“The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”
He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”
staying out of politics is no longer an option for China’s business leaders. But some of his peers are reluctant, given the potential penalties.
steered away from the market economy and cracked down on some industries. It demonized entrepreneurs and went after some of the most prominent of them. Then when the mild, albeit contagious, Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged in China this year, the government meddled with free enterprise as it hadn’t in decades.
The lockdowns and restrictions have done so much damage to the economy that Premier Li Keqiang summoned about 100,000 cadres to an emergency meeting in late May. He called the situation “severe” and “urgent,” citing sharp drops in employment, industrial production, electricity consumption and freight traffic.
Many business leaders believe that it will be hard to reverse the damage if the government doesn’t stop the zero Covid policy. Yet they feel that there’s nothing they can do to make Beijing change course.
The chairman of a big internet company told me that with all the pandemic restrictions, he and others were operating as if dancing with shackles on while expecting the sword of a lockdown to strike at any moment. With a big public company to run, he said, it would be too risky to be vocal. He hoped the economists could be more outspoken.
The chairman of a publicly listed conglomerate with many consumer-facing businesses said he had to shut down a few of his companies and let people go as revenues dropped off a cliff. He’s not a Christian, he said, but he has been praying to God every day to help him get through this tough period.
articles that compared the pros and cons of different pandemic policies. Then, in mid-May, his social media Weibo account was suspended.
Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, largely disappeared from public view after he criticized banking regulators in late 2019. The regulators quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, the tech and financial company controlled by Mr. Ma, and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion last year.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate developer, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of committing graft, taking bribes, misusing public funds and abusing his power. His real crime, his supporters say, was criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.
Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.
Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.
He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April, he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.
A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.
Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.
“Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.
The prospect depressed him. China used to be the best market in the world: big, vibrant, full of ambitious entrepreneurs and hungry workers, he said, but the senseless and destructive zero Covid policy and the business crackdowns have forced many of them to think twice.
“Even if your company is a so-called giant, we’re all nobodies in front of the bigger force,” he said. “A whiff of wind could crush us.”
All the business leaders I spoke to said they were reluctant to make long-term investment in China and fearful that they and their companies could become the next victim of the government’s iron fist. They’re focusing on their international operations if they have them or seeking opportunities abroad.
Mr. Zhou left for Vancouver, British Columbia, in a hurry in late April when Beijing was locking down many neighborhoods. Then he wrote the article, urging his peers to try to speak up and change their powerless status.
He said he understood the fear and the pressure they faced. “Honestly speaking, I’m scared, too.” But he would probably regret it more if he did nothing. “Our country can’t go on like this,” he said. “We can’t allow it to deteriorate like this.”
In recent years, a few of Mr. Zhou’s articles and social media accounts have been deleted. His outspokenness has caused uneasiness among his friends, he said. Some have told him to shut up because it didn’t change anything and was creating unnecessary risks for himself, his family, his companies and the stakeholders in his businesses.
But Mr. Zhou can’t help himself. He’s worried that China could become more like it was under Mao: impoverished and repressive. His generation of entrepreneurs owes much of their success to China’s reform and opening up policies, he said. They have the responsibilities to initiate change instead of waiting for a free ride.
Maybe they can start by speaking up, even if just a little bit.
“Any change starts with disagreement and disobedience,” he said.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Mindful of the angry and still-unhealed wounds left by NATO’s bombing of Serbia more than 20 years ago, Ukraine’s ambassador appeared on Serbian television after Russia invaded and bombed his country in the hope of rousing sympathy.
Instead of getting time to explain Ukraine’s misery, however, the ambassador, Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, had to sit through rants by pro-Russian Serbian commentators, and long videos of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, denouncing Ukraine as a nest of Nazis. The show, broadcast by the pro-government Happy TV, lasted three hours, more than half of which featured Mr. Putin.
Angry at the on-air ambush, the ambassador complained to the producer about the pro-Kremlin propaganda exercise, but was told not to take it personally and that Mr. Putin “is good for our ratings.”
That Russia’s leader, viewed by many in the West, including President Biden, as a war criminal, serves in Serbia as a lure for viewers is a reminder that the Kremlin still has admirers in Europe.
While Germany, Poland and several other E.U. countries display solidarity with Ukraine by flying its flag outside their Belgrade embassies, a nearby street pays tribute to Mr. Putin. A mural painted on the wall features an image of the Russian leader alongside the Serbian word for “brother.”
Part of Mr. Putin’s allure lies in his image as a strongman, an appealing model for President Aleksandr Vucic, the increasingly authoritarian leader of Serbia, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the belligerently illiberal leader of Hungary. Facing elections on Sunday, the Serbian and Hungarian leaders also look to Russia as a reliable source of energy to keep their voters happy. Opinion polls suggest both will win.
Then there is history, or at least a mythologized version of the past, that, in the case of Serbia, presents Russia, a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation, as an unwavering friend and protector down the centuries.
But perhaps most important is Mr. Putin’s role as a lodestar for nations that, no matter what their past crimes, see themselves as sufferers, not aggressors, and whose politics and psyche revolve around cults of victimhood nurtured by resentment and grievance against the West.
Arijan Djan, a Belgrade-based psychotherapist, said she had been shocked by the lack of empathy among many Serbs for the suffering of Ukrainians but realized that many still bore the scars of past trauma that obliterated all feeling for the pain of others.
“Individuals who suffer traumas that they have never dealt with cannot feel empathy,” she said. Societies, like trauma-scarred individuals, she added, “just repeat the same stories of their own suffering over and over again,” a broken record that “deletes all responsibility” for what they have done to others.
A sense of victimhood runs deep in Serbia, viewing crimes committed by ethnic kin during the Balkan wars of the 1990s as a defensive response to suffering visited on Serbs, just as Mr. Putin presents his bloody invasion of Ukraine as a righteous effort to protect persecuted ethnic Russians who belong in “Russky mir,” or the “Russian world.”
“Putin’s ‘Russian world’ is an exact copy of and what our nationalists call Greater Serbia,” said Bosko Jaksic, a pro-Western newspaper columnist. Both, he added, feed on partially remembered histories of past injustice and erased memories of their own sins.
The victim narrative is so strong among some in Serbia that Informer, a raucous tabloid newspaper that often reflects the thinking of Mr. Vucic, the president, last month reported Russia’s preparations for its invasion of Ukraine with a front-page headline recasting Moscow as a blameless innocent: “Ukraine attacks Russia!” it screamed.
The Serbian government, wary of burning bridges with the West but sensitive to widespread public sympathy for Russia as a fellow wronged victim, has since pushed news outlets to take a more neutral stand, said Zoran Gavrilovic, the executive director of Birodi, an independent media monitoring group in Serbia. Russia is almost never criticized, he said, but abuse of Ukraine has subsided.
Mr. Aleksandrovych, the Ukrainian ambassador to Serbia, said he welcomed the change of tone but that he still struggled to get Serbians to look beyond their own suffering at NATO’s hands in 1999. “Because of the trauma of what happened 23 years ago, whatever bad happens in the world is seen as America’s fault,” he said.
Hungary, allied with the losing side in two world wars, also nurses an oversize victim complex, rooted in the loss of large chunks of its territory. Mr. Orban has stoked those resentments eagerly for years, often siding with Russia over Ukraine, which controls a slice of former Hungarian land and has featured prominently in his efforts to present himself as a defender of ethnic Hungarians living beyond the country’s border.
In neighboring Serbia, Mr. Vucic, anxious to avoid alienating pro-Russia voters ahead of Sunday’s election, has balked at imposing sanctions on Russia and at suspending flights between Belgrade and Moscow. But Serbia did vote in favor of a United Nations resolution on March 2 condemning Russia’s invasion.
That was enough to win praise for Mr. Vucic from Victoria Nuland, an American under secretary of state, who thanked Serbia “for its support for Ukraine.” But it did not stop Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, from on Monday suggesting Belgrade as a good place to hold peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv.
Serbs who want their country to join the European Union and stop dancing between East and West accuse Mr. Vucic of playing a double game. “There are tectonic changes taking place and we are trying to sleep through them,” said Vladimir Medjak, vice president of European Movement Serbia, a lobbying group pushing for E.U. membership.
Serbia, he said, is “not so much pro-Russian as NATO-hating.”
Instead of moving toward Europe, he added: “We are still talking about what happened in the 1990s. It is an endless loop. We are stuck talking about the same things over and over.”
More than two decades after the fighting ended in the Balkans, many Serbs still dismiss war crimes in Srebrenica, where Serb soldiers massacred more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in 1995, and in Kosovo, where brutal Serb persecution of ethnic Albanians prompted NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign, as the flip side of suffering inflicted on ethnic Serbs.
Asked whether she approved of the war unleashed by Mr. Putin as she walked by the Belgrade mural in his honor, Milica Zuric, a 25-year-old bank worker, responded by asking why Western media focused on Ukraine’s agonies when “you had no interest in Serbian pain” caused by NATO warplanes in 1999. “Nobody cried over what happened to us,” she said.
With much of the world’s media focused last week on Russia’s destruction of Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city, Serbia commemorated the start of NATO’s bombing campaign. Front pages were plastered with photos of buildings and railway lines destroyed by NATO. “We cannot forget. We know what it is to live under bombardment,” read the headline of Kurir, a pro-government tabloid.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the United States Embassy and then joined a much bigger pro-Russia demonstration, with protesters waving Russian flags and banners adorned with the letter Z, which has become an emblem of support for Russia’s invasion.
Damnjan Knezevic, the leader of People’s Patrol, a far-right group that organized the gathering, said he felt solidarity with Russia because it had been portrayed as an aggressor in the West, just as Serbia was in the 1990s, when, he believes, “Serbia was in reality the biggest victim.” Russia had a duty to protect ethnic kin in Ukraine just as Serbia did in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, Mr. Knezevic said.
Bosko Obradovic, the leader of Dveri, a conservative party, said he lamented civilian casualties in Ukraine but insisted that “NATO has a huge responsibility” for their fate.
Mr. Obradovic on Sunday gathered cheering supporters for a pre-election rally in a Belgrade movie house. A stall outside the entrance sold Serbian paratrooper berets, military caps and big Russian flags.
Predrag Markovic, director for the Institute of Contemporary History in Belgrade, said that history served as the bedrock of nationhood but, distorted by political agendas, “always offers the wrong lessons.” The only case of a country in Europe fully acknowledging its past crimes, he added, was Germany after World War II.
“Everyone else has a story of victimization.” Mr. Markovic said.
ODESSA, Ukraine—Sparks fly day and night at the rail yard of Odessa’s tram authority, where men in coveralls are slicing up old steel rails and welding them into barricades called “hedgehogs” to stop Russian tanks.
Not far away, the area around the city’s elegant baroque opera house looks like a set from a World War II movie, with chest-high stacks of sandbags and troops in green uniforms. And a food market downtown popular with hipsters has been turned into a warehouse for a range of provisions — food, clothing and medicine for the troops.
A major attack on Odessa, which as Ukraine’s biggest port city is crucial for the country’s economic survival, feels like an inevitability, officials and residents say.
Russian naval ships have gathered just outside Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Black Sea, and Russian troops are pushing ever closer from the east. On Wednesday, the city’s mayor, Gennady Trukhanov was inspecting a bomb shelter at an orphanage when he received a call that a Russian jet, likely having flown in from the Crimean Peninsula, had fired a rocket at a military installation just outside town.
“Do you have your diaper on?” the mayor asked the person he was speaking with, laughing. “Don’t be a hero, there will be time for that later,” he said.
“I think they’re testing our antiaircraft systems,” Mr. Trukhanov said when he hung up the phone. “He flies in, we open fire, he flies away and almost immediately they fire a rocket.”
For the first several days of the invasion, Russia primarily concentrated its military forces on Kyiv, in the north, and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast. But a concerted and in many ways more successful campaign is being waged in Ukraine’s south, along the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, a small, important body of water where Russia seeks full control.
As of Wednesday, Russian forces had captured the strategically important city of Kherson at the mouth of the Dnieper River, the first major city to come under Russian control. The fate of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov,an inland body of water that Russia and Ukraine share, also hung in the balance as Russian naval forces gathered in an apparent effort to mount an amphibious attack.
The carnage in Kherson was particularly extreme: Volunteers had been dispatched to gather up bodies, many of them unidentifiable because of tank and artillery fire, and bury them in mass graves, the city’s mayor, Igor Kolykhaev, said in an interview on Wednesday.
“They’ve fully come into the city,” Mr. Kolykhaev said, adding that he met with the Russian commander, who said he intended to put in place a military administration.
Kherson, with a population of around 300,000, is just over 120 miles from Odessa, and Russian troops have already pushed beyond it to Mykolaiv, about 45 miles to the north, Ukrainian officials said.
But it is Odessa that would be the real prize. Founded by Catherine the Great in the late 1700s, the city was a crown jewel of the Russian Empire and a critical commercial port for the Soviet Union. Though not as militarily significant as the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has spoken wistfully about the reconstitution of imperial-era New Russia, a region along the Black Sea centered on Odessa.
Like the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Odessa was the site of a separatist uprising backed by Russia in 2014 that sought to create an independent state. But the effort was crushed after a series of pitched street battles pitting the separatists against Ukrainian nationalists and soccer hooligans, which culminated in the torching of a trade union building on the outskirts of Odessa. At least 40 pro-Russian activists were killed.
Days before the invasion started last week, Mr. Putin issued a threat against those who started the fire, suggesting that Odessa was on his mind.
“The criminals who committed this evil act have not been punished,” he said. “No one is looking for them, but we know them by name.”
Mr. Trukhanov, the Odessa mayor, backed by assessments from Ukraine’s military, said Russia’s goal was likely to surround Odessa with land and naval forces, cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea, which is the country’s primary link to the global economy.
Surrounding Odessa, he said, “will put an end to cargo shipments, an end to the economy and the end of development.”
He added, “But we’re not talking about that often, because the priority is survival.”
Odessa has undergone a profound and disturbing transformation since Russia invaded. Just over a week ago, the city was experiencing an unusual early warm snap that drove people outside, to the city’s cobblestone streets and beaches. Crowds flocked to the opera house, flamboyantly renovated with polished marble and 25 pounds of gold leaf, to see a performance of Madama Butterfly.
Now the entire, historic center around the opera is sealed off by sandbags, barbed wire and troops armed with automatic weapons.
“I can’t believe that a week ago I was a lawyer,” said Inga Kordynovska. She said he had been planning to compete in an international ballroom dancing competition, but was now coordinating the collection of food, clothing and medicine for Odessa’s territorial defense troops.
“One day, I had heels and makeup; I was going to ballroom dancing,” she said “And now everything has changed.”
The entrance to the Odessa Food Market has been draped with a large Red Cross banner and fortified with sandbags. Before the war, people used to eat Chinese street food and sip craft IPAs; now men in beanie hats and neck tattoos are stacking bottles of water and sorting bags of clothing.
Though the mission is to gather supplies for the city’s defenders, none of the combatants are allowed to enter the hall, said Nikolai Viknianskyi, who owns a furniture company and is now volunteering at the site.
“We’ve banned people with weapons from coming here so as not to attract other people with weapons,” Mr. Viknianskyi. “We don’t want for our hipsters or our fashionable youth to be hurt. They’re not military people, they don’t know how to fight.”
The fight may come anyway. As if to underscore the threat, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenksy, replaced the Odessa region’s civilian governor with a colonel from Ukraine’s armed forces. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Navy accused Russian forces in the Black Sea of attempting to enter Ukraine’s territorial waters using civilian boats as a “human shield.”
Though Odessa has not experienced the intense shelling of other cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv, there have been sporadic rocket attacks. It was unclear if Wednesday’s hostilities caused any injuries, but one person was killed on Tuesday in an attack on a military radar installation, Mr. Trukhanov, the Odessa mayor, said.
Also on Tuesday, an explosion ripped through the small village of Dachne, north of Odessa just off the highway to Kyiv. Several houses along a potholed street were reduced to rubble, and power line poles and trees were snapped at their bases.
A 60-year-old resident named Yuri said workers had extracted an undetonated shell from his front yard, which destroyed a brand-new Volkswagen his children had given him for his birthday. It was not clear whether the shell was fired by Russian forces or if Ukrainian troops mistakenly hit the village.
All this has rattled the residents of Odessa. At an orphanage visited by Mr. Trukhanov on Wednesday, tiny jackets had been arranged on a table to be ready in case the children have to make a dash to the bomb shelter in the basement.
After lunch time, a group of the youngest was tucked into their beds for nap time, while their caretaker stood over them, playing a lullaby on her phone, and silently crying.
“God,” she said, addressing the mayor, “everything is going to be OK, right?”
CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.
But then the lyrics take a radical turn.
“If you leave me,” blasts/explodes/shouts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”
The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.
The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.
arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.
But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.
Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.
Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.
DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.
Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize immoral behavior on the internet.
The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.
He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.
“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”
Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.
They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.
Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.
Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.
“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”
MEXICO CITY — At 49 years old and under five feet tall, Martha Izquierdo doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a TikTok influencer. But having survived sexual abuse, kidnapping, two bouts with cancer and two heart attacks, conquering social media was practically a cinch for this Mexican journalist.
Ms. Izquierdo, who lives in a small town in southern Oaxaca state, has amassed more than 600,000 followers on the social media platform, with her videos accumulating some 24 million likes.
What’s the message that has made her so popular in a time of pandemic and in a country experiencing record levels of violence?
“I started talking about issues that had to do with seeing life in a positive way,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “Confronting your fears, making people understand that each one of us is unique, irreplaceable.”
award-winning journalist with decades of reporting experience, Ms. Izquierdo is relatively new to social media stardom. As the pandemic began its assault on Mexico in 2020, she decided to open a TikTok account, where she goes by @marthaizquierdooficial.
a devastating toll on public health and the economy, Ms. Izquierdo offers her fans a dose of pure delight. And in a digital era where everything is photoshopped glamour, Ms. Izquierdo’s very ordinariness, whether exercising, driving to work or dancing to cumbiamusic in her back yard, has made her extraordinary.
Her colorful outfits are part of her appeal, from traditional Oaxacan dresses to bikinis for the beach — the long scar from cancer surgery that slices across her belly proudly on display. But Ms. Izquierdo’s brand isn’t so much couture as confidence.
“If you have to start over, start over,” she said in one clip. “That’s what life is all about — never giving up.”
the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, reporting the news came with immense risks: Often, her work involved covering the cartel-fueled violence that has terrorized the country for decades.
In 2007, three newspaper sellers in a city near where she lived were killed, she recounted, by the violent Zetas cartel, whose assassins had mistaken their victims for journalists. When Ms. Izquierdo went to cover the killings, she received an ominous phone call saying she was next.
surrounded and detained by armed men. It was only when the army arrived that Ms. Izquierdo was released.
Still, despite continually confronting danger on the job, Ms. Izquierdo said her greatest challenge in life came when her partner of 18 years, who had been battling cancer and kidney problems, finally succumbed.
“I wanted to kill myself because I loved him so much that I stopped loving myself,” she said.
Then, in 2015, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given eight months to live. Again, she thought about giving up.
But her friends and family convinced her to keep fighting. She underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, leaving her body scarred.
“I would cry in front of the mirror when I looked at myself because my body looked mutilated,” Ms. Izquierdo said. “I felt like Frankenstein.”
Eventually she defeated the cancer — but in 2017 it returned, this time in her stomach. In February of that year she had a heart attack.
After surviving a second heart attack months later, Ms. Izquierdo said everything changed. While unconscious, Ms. Izquierdo said she had a vision during which she heard her deceased partner’s voice telling her to go on living.
“If I came back to life it was for one purpose,” she said. “To keep living, to be happy, and to help other people with my life experience.”
It was that positive attitude that catapulted her to TikTok fame. But along with all the followers came the trolls, who called her overweight or unattractive. At first, the negative comments started getting to her; then, she decided to stop caring.
“When I was allowing myself to be affected by unfounded negative comments, I said to myself, ‘No — I love myself.’”
Before long, the number of negative comments started dropping, even as her followers increased. Watching haters change their attitude toward her, Ms. Izquierdo said, is what she considers one of the greatest achievements of her TikTok presence. That, and the messages she receives from fans telling her the effect she’s had on their lives.
A few weeks ago, one of those fans, Ms. Méndez, summoned the courage to contact her idol. The resulting phone conversation, she said, has turned her life around: She’s gone to see a specialist about losing weight and plans to start working out.
“I want to wake up dancing every morning like she does,” Ms. Méndez said. “She’s a woman worth her weight in gold.”
For Ms. Izquierdo, this kind of impact is the point of all her efforts.
“It’s all worth it if I can change someone who is facing a problem,” she said. “If I can make them smile.”
ROTTERDAM — The Italian band Maneskin celebrated its 2021 Eurovision win by the rock ’n’ roll playbook, with bare chests covered in tattoos, champagne spraying and the thuds of fireworks exploding.
The win was a close and deeply emotional one, with the band’s song, “Zitti e Buoni,” or “Shut Up and Be Quiet,” edging into first place in an exhilarating vote that was ultimately decided by the public. Maneskin barely beat France’s Barbara Pravi, and her chanson “Voilà.” After the victory, an Italian reporter was sobbing as tears streamed down his face.
Capturing what many felt, he said the victory was a fresh start for Italy. “It was a very difficult year for us,” the reporter, Simone Zani, said, talking about the devastating impact of the coronavirus. Explaining through his tears, he said, “We are from the north of Italy, from Bergamo,” an Italian city with record numbers of Covid-19 deaths. “To be No. 1 now, this is a new start for us, a new beginning.”
Eurovision, the largest music contest in the world, is a campy trifle to some, but it celebrates Europe’s cultural diversity and is a reflection of the times we live in. For many outside Europe, the attraction of Eurovision can be hard to comprehend. But a key reason the 200-million plus audience is watching is that there is no cultural mold for the event. Anything goes, and diversity is highly encouraged. The global entertainment business may be dominated by U.S. pop culture, but at Eurovision, 39 different countries can showcase their ideas of music and pop culture with no industry rules other than a three-minute song limit.
Jendrik playing a diamond studded ukulele while being accompanied by a dancing finger. Tix, the singer for Norway, has Tourette’s syndrome. He was dressed in a gigantic fur coat and wearing angel wings, while being chained to four horned demons. “Remember guys, you are not alone,” he said to everyone “suffering” in the world.
The three singers of Serbia’s entry, Hurricane, may have sported the big hair look of American groups of decades past, but despite seeming as if they had bought up most of the hair extensions on the continent, they sang their song, “Loco Loco,” in Serbian.
Nikkie Tutorials. The crowd went wild every time she came onstage or even walked past the corridors.
Dadi Freyr, and other group members, watched from a hotel room as the results came in. Standing in for the missing performers were dolls wearing the band’s outfit, topped with iPads showing their faces. Despite the recorded performance, Iceland landed fourth place.
Duncan Laurence, who had won for the Netherlands in 2019, also contracted the virus and wasn’t able to perform during this year’s finals as is the tradition. The event was canceled in 2020.
Hossein Zenderoudi. Her song dusts off the French chanson, recalling singers like Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg.
Some had criticized her, calling her style of singing out of fashion, but Ms. Pravi strongly disagreed. “You don’t need to make concessions in music,” she said. “You can be absolutely yourself, doing the music you like, say the words you want and being the woman you want to be. And now I am here at Eurovision, the biggest contest in the world.”
Early Sunday morning Ms. Pravi was seen in the dimly lit press center speaking to French reporters who couldn’t believe that their country had come so close to victory, after having achieved almost no Eurovision honors since their victory in 1977.
James Newman, the United Kingdom’s entrant, was nowhere to be found. His song “Embers” had received zero points from both the national juries and the international audience. “It’s Brexit,” said Meg Perry-Duxbury, a Briton living in Rotterdam, sitting next to me in the arena. “Europe doesn’t want us to win.” She herself was supporting Cyprus (another song featuring devils) anyway, Ms. Perry-Duxbury said. “So whatever.”
manufacturing activity in the United States and Europe showed a rapid pickup, as did retail sales data from Britain.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.6 percent led by gains in consumer companies. One of the biggest gainers was Richemont, the Swiss luxury goods company that owns brands including Cartier and Montblanc. Richemont shares rose after the company reported its full-year results with strong growth in sales in Asia especially for its jewelry and watch brands.
Oil prices rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose 1.4 percent to $63.48 a barrel.
Retail sales in Britain surged in April as nonessential stores were allowed to reopen. The volume of sales increased 9.2 percent from the previous month, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday. It was more than double the forecast by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Shopping for clothes stores led the resurgence.
Across the eurozone, activity in the services sector jumped in May. The Purchasing Managers’ Index climbed to 55.1 points from 50.5 in April, IHS Markit said on Friday. A reading above 50 signals expansion. The index for manufacturing was little changed from the previous month at 62.8.
“Growth would have been even stronger had it not been for record supply chain delays and difficulties restarting businesses quickly enough to meet demand, especially in terms of rehiring,” Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, wrote in the report.
IHS’s measure for U.S. manufacturers and service providers climbed to a record. The Purchasing Managers Index for the country rose to 68.1, from 63.5 a month earlier. “Business confidence across the private sector improved in May,” IHS reported.
There are many ways to measure how much the economy has reopened after pandemic lockdowns. One offbeat way is to compare the share prices of Clorox to Dave & Buster’s.
Nick Mazing, the director of research at the data provider Sentieo, came up with this metric to gauge shifts in postpandemic activity. The higher Clorox’s share price rises relative to Dave & Buster’s, the more people appear to be staying home and disinfecting everything than going out to crowded bars.
By this measure, the DealBook newsletter reports, conditions have nearly returned to prepandemic levels — indeed, Dave & Buster’s recently lifted its sales forecast, as nearly all of its beer-and-arcade bars have reopened.
Two more ratios that Mr. Mazing suggest comparing are Netflix versus Live Nation and Peloton versus Planet Fitness.
The first is also nearly back to where it was before the pandemic: Live Nation is preparing for a packed concert schedule, selling tickets to people who may have already binge-watched all of “Below Deck.”
The second, however, suggests that people aren’t as eager to get back to huffing and puffing at the gym as they are content to exercise at home. As restrictions lift and people feel safer in crowds, drinking and dancing appear to be higher priorities.
The government’s $788 billion relief effort for small businesses ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program, is ending as it began, with the initiative’s final days mired in chaos and confusion.
Millions of applicants are seeking money from the scant handful of lenders still making the government-backed loans. Hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in limbo, waiting to find out if they will receive their approved loans — some of which have been stalled for months because of errors or glitches. Lenders are overwhelmed, and borrowers are panicking, The New York Times’s Stacy Cowley reports.
The relief program had been scheduled to keep taking applications until May 31. But two weeks ago, its manager, the Small Business Administration, announced that the program’s $292 billion in financing for forgivable loans this year had nearly run out and that it would immediately stop processing most new applications.
Then the government threw another curveball: The Small Business Administration decided that the remaining money, around $9 billion, would be available only through community financial institutions, a small group of specially designated institutions that focus on underserved communities.
The American steel industry is experiencing a comeback that few would have predicted even months ago.
Steel prices are at record highs and demand is surging as businesses step up production amid an easing of pandemic restrictions. Steel makers have consolidated in the past year, allowing them to exert more control over supply. Tariffs on foreign steel imposed by the Trump administration have kept cheaper imports out. And steel companies are hiring again, The New York Times’s Matt Phillips reports.
It’s not clear how long the boom will last. This week, the Biden administration began discussions with European Union trade officials about global steel markets. Some steel workers and executives believe that could lead to an eventual pullback of the Trump-era tariffs, which are widely credited for spurring the turnaround in the steel industry.
Record prices for steel are not going to reverse decades of job losses. Since the early 1960s, employment in the steel industry has fallen more than 75 percent. More than 400,000 jobs disappeared as foreign competition grew and as the industry shifted toward production processes that required fewer workers. But the price surge is delivering some optimism to steel towns across the country, especially after job losses during the pandemic pushed American steel employment to the lowest level on record.
Shareholders of Tribune Publishing, the owner of major metropolitan newspapers like the The Chicago Tribune and The New York Daily News, will vote on Friday on whether to approve the company’s saleto Alden Global Capital, a financial investor with a reputation for slashing costs and cutting jobs. Alden already holds a 32 percent stake in Tribune, so the deal hinges on approval from the shareholders who own the other two-thirds of Tribune’s stock. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire medical entrepreneur who owns The Los Angeles Times and other California papers with his wife, Michele B. Chan, has a 24 percent stake in Tribune. Dr. Soon-Shiong has not commented publicly on how he intends to vote.
CNN said on Thursday that its prime-time host Chris Cuomo inappropriately offered public-relations advice to his brother, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, after a series of sexual harassment allegations threatened the governor’s political career earlier this year. CNN said Chris Cuomo would refrain from any more similar discussions with the governor’s staff. But the network said it would take no disciplinary action against the anchor, whose program was CNN’s highest-rated show in the first quarter of the year. Chris Cuomo apologized to viewers and his colleagues at the start of Thursday’s show for the calls with the governor’s staff, saying: “It will not happen again. It was a mistake.” But he also defended himself, saying that he “of course” gave advice to his brother and that he was “family first, job second.”
When Jeffrey Epstein gave The Times columnist James Stewart a tour of his apartment a few years ago, he boasted of his expansive Rolodex of billionaires — and the dirt he had on them. A year and a half after the financier’s death by suicide in a New York jail, the fallout for those in the registered sex offender’s orbit, and increasingly those a step or two removed from it, continues to spread.
For example, the latest management reshuffle at Apollo, as we reported yesterday, can be linked back to Epstein. Tracing all the resignations and reshuffles directly and indirectly tied to the scandal will take a while (we’re working on it), but here’s a tally of some so far:
The Apollo co-founder Leon Black said in January that he would resign as C.E.O. but stay on as chairman, after an internal inquiry found he had paid $158 million to Epstein for tax advice. He unexpectedly quit both posts in March, and later stepped down as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art. Josh Harris, a fellow co-founder who had unsuccessfully pushed Black to quit immediately, said yesterday that he was stepping back from Apollo after failing to become the next C.E.O.; Marc Rowan, Apollo’s third co-founder and Black’s pick as successor, now leads the firm.
When the details of meetings between Epstein and Bill Gates burst into public view in late 2019, the billionaire’s wife, Melinda French Gates, hired divorce lawyers. The couple’s split, announced this month, could upend their numerous investments and philanthropic ventures
Les Wexner announced last February that he would step down as C.E.O. of the Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands, under pressure from multiple internal investigations about his close ties to Epstein. Earlier this year, he and his wife, Abigail Wexner, said they would not stand for re-election to the L Brands board this month. (The company is now in the process of spinning off Victoria’s Secret.) Mr. Wexner was Epstein’s biggest early client and, a Times investigation found, the original source of the financier’s wealth.
Prince Andrew of Britain gave up his public duties last November, days after a disastrous interview with the BBC centered on his relationship with Epstein. At least 47 charities and nonprofits of which he was a patron have since cut ties to the prince.
Joi Ito resigned as the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab, a prominent research group, in 2019 and as member of several corporate boards (including The New York Times Co.), after acknowledging that he had received $1.7 million in investments from Epstein.
Alexander Acosta resigned as Donald Trump’s labor secretary in 2019, amid criticism of his handling of a 2008 sex crimes case against Epstein when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Morgan Stanley sets up its C.E.O. succession competition. The Wall Street firm gave new roles to four top executives, marking them as candidates to take over from James Gorman: Ted Pick and Andy Saperstein were named co-presidents; Jonathan Pruzan was named C.O.O.; and Dan Simkowitz was named co-head of strategy with Pick.
The U.S. endorses a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent. The proposal, which was lower than some had expected, is closely tied to the Biden administration’s plans to raise the corporate tax rate. Global coordination would discourage multinationals from shifting to tax havens overseas.
Treasury officials said they could capture at least $700 billion in additional revenue. That would involve hiring 5,000 new I.R.S. agents, imposing new rules on reporting crypto transactions and other measures.
U.S. customs officials block a Uniqlo shipment over Chinese forced labor concerns. Agents at the Port of Los Angeles acted under an order prohibiting imports of cotton items produced in the Xinjiang region.
U.S. steel prices are soaring. After years of job losses and mill closures, American steel producers have enjoyed a reversal of fortune: Nucor, for instance, is the year’s top-performing stock in the S&P 500. Credit goes to industry consolidation, a recovering economy and Trump-era tariffs. Unsurprisingly, steel consumers aren’t thrilled about it.
Oprah Winfrey to Blackstone, made its stock market debut yesterday, ending its first trading session with a valuation of about $13 billion. DealBook spoke with Oatly’s C.E.O., Toni Petersson, about the I.P.O. and what’s next for the company.
resignation letter offering both praise of SoftBank’s chief, Masa Son — and unusually pointed criticism of the company’s corporate governance.
Going out vs. staying in, charted
It’s been a while since we checked in on an alternative indicator of pandemic economic activity: the share price ratio of Clorox to Dave & Buster’s.
Wait, what? Nick Mazing, the director of research at the data provider Sentieo, came up with that metric to gauge the openness of the economy. The higher Clorox’s share price rises relative to Dave & Buster’s, the more people appear to be staying home and disinfecting everything than going out to crowded bars. By this measure, conditions have nearly returned to prepandemic levels — indeed, Dave & Buster’s recently lifted its sales forecast, as nearly all of its beer-and-arcade bars have reopened.
packed concert schedule, selling tickets to people who may have already binge-watched all of “Below Deck.” The second, however, suggests that people aren’t as eager to get back to huffing and puffing at the gym as they are content to exercise at home. As restrictions lift and people feel safer in crowds, drinking and dancing appear to be higher priorities.
new book, “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” the Princeton psychology professor and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, along with co-authors Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein, argue that these inconsistencies have enormous and avoidable consequences. Kahneman spoke to DealBook about how to hone judgment and reduce noise.
DealBook: What is “noise” in this context?
Kahneman: It’s unwanted and unpredictable variability in judgments about the same situations. Some decisions and solutions are better than others and there are situations where everyone should be aiming at the same target.
Can you give some examples?
A basic example is the criminal justice system, which is essentially a machine for producing sentences for people convicted of crimes. The punishments should not be too different for the same crime yet sentencing turns out to depend on the judge and their mood and characteristics. Similarly, doctors looking at the same X-ray should not be reaching completely different conclusions.
How do individuals or institutions detect this noise?
You detect noise in a set of measurements and can run an experiment. Present underwriters with the same policy to evaluate and see what they say. You don’t want a price so high that you don’t get the business or one so low that it represents a risk. Noise costs institutions. One underwriter’s decision about one policy will not tell you about variability. But many underwriters’ decisions about the same cases will reveal noise.
An arm of Goldman Sachs has raised $3 billion from clients to invest in later-stage start-ups. (WSJ)
SPACs have raised $100 billion this year through May 19, a record, but new fund listings dropped sharply last month. (Insider)
Politics and policy
President Biden issued an executive order directing government agencies to expand efforts to analyze and mitigate the economic risks tied to climate change. (Axios)
“As Paycheck Protection Program Runs Dry, Desperation Grows” (NYT)
CNN said the prime-time host Chris Cuomo inappropriately advised his brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, on how to respond to sexual harassment allegations. (NYT)
Paul Romer was one of the tech industry’s favorite economists; now he is criticizing Silicon Valley giants for being too big. (NYT)
Amazon was recently pushed to ban prominent electronics accessory makers by the F.T.C. over fake-review schemes. (Recode)
Best of the rest
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett got more than 200 billionaires to pledge half their wealth to charity. Some are falling short, but still getting massive tax breaks. (Insider)
FIFA, the global soccer governing body, secretly considered supporting the European Super League, before reconsidering amid public outcry about the now-failed competition. (NYT)
Five questions to ask before you panic about inflation. (NYT)
We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A decade ago, after a rained-out Thanksgiving desert camping trip with our five kids, my wife, Kristin, and I headed to the nearest available lodging, the now-shuttered Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Watching our brood eat their Thanksgiving meal as cigarette smoke and slot-machine clamor wafted over their cheeseburgers, Kristin and I locked eyes with an unspoken message: We are the world’s worst parents.
We have avoided Las Vegas with the kids since then, but an aborted drive to slushy Aspen this April with three of our heirs caused us to pause in Vegas. At the time, the city was just awakening from its Covid slumber, with mandatory masks and limited capacity in most indoor spaces, traffic so light that cars were drag-racing down the normally packed Strip, and a lingering, troubling question over the whole place: Will this reopening really be safe?
But extraordinary things have been happening during this slumber, and while we were only going to spend one night there, we had so much fun that we ended up staying four. At first we spent most of our time in the relative safety of the outdoors, but then we started to relax along with the rest of the city, drowning our hands beneath the ubiquitous liquid sanitizer dispensers, masking up and heading indoors.
I knew things had shifted in Sin City when, while maneuvering the minivan through some seemingly dicey neighborhood between Downtown and the Strip, I noted on the back alley wall of a hair salon a striking mural depicting the cult outsider artist Henry Darger’s seven Vivian Girl warriors in their trademark yellow dresses. What were the Vivian Girls doing here?
Makers & Finders — and wandered along Spring Mountain Road, the hub of the city’s Chinatown, rapidly expanding westward. In the midcentury mecca of East Fremont Street, a $350 million investment by the tech titan Tony Hsieh, who died last year, has produced a boulevard of fantastical art installations, restored buildings and a sculptural playground surrounded by stacked shipping containers converted to boutiques and cafes, all guarded by a giant, fire-spewing, steel praying mantis.
“Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, told me in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the local culture that comes out of a city with two million unusually creative people didn’t stop during the pandemic.”
Area15, which opened in February in a mysterious, airport-hanger-size, windowless building two miles west of the Strip. Imagine an urban Burning Man mall (indeed, many of the sculptures and installations came from the annual arts festival held in northern Nevada), with some dozen tenants providing everything from virtual reality trips to nonvirtual ax throwing, accompanied by Day-Glo color schemes, electronic music, giant interactive art installations and guests flying overhead on seats attached to ceiling rails. Face masks are currently only mandatory in Area15 for self-identified unvaccinated people, though some of the attractions within still require face masks for everyone. Everywhere, we encountered the constant presence of cleaning attendants spraying and wiping surfaces.
Blue Man Group, who was bringing his creative magic to Area15 in the form of a “Psychedelic Art House Meets Carnival Funhouse” called Wink World (adult tickets start at $18). Wink World is centered around six rooms with infinity mirror boxes reflecting Slinkys, plasma balls, fan spinners, Hoberman Spheres and ribbons dancing to an ethereal soundtrack of electronic music, rhythmic chanting and heavy breathing.
“I worked on these installations for six years in my living room in New York,” Mr. Wink told me. “I was trying to evoke psychedelic experiences without medicine.”
My unmedicated children were transfixed, as if these familiar toys frolicking into eternity were totems to their own personal nirvanas. I’ve never seen them stand so still in front of an art exhibit.
Omega Mart (adult admissions start at $45, face mask and temperature check mandatory), the biggest attraction in the complex, lines one side of the complex’s atrium and seemed — at first — to provide a banal respite from Area15’s sensory overload. Along the sale aisles I found Nut Free Salted Peanuts, Gut Monkey Ginger Ale and cans of Camels Implied Chicken Sop.
Meow Wolf (the name derived from pulling two random words from a hat during their first meeting), Omega Mart is an amalgamation of some 325 artists’ creations tied together by disparate overlapping story lines which one can follow — or not.
For a short time, I tracked the story of the takeover of Omega Mart’s corporate headquarters by a hilariously manipulative New Agey daughter, and then got sidelined into the tale of a teen herbalist leading a rebellion to something else. I have no idea what I experienced other than that Brian Eno composed the music to one of the installations. None of my kids could explain what they experienced either, other than something mind-expanding. If it wasn’t for dinner, we might still be in there.
Raku. Step behind an understated white backlit sign and you enter an aged wood interior of an intimate restaurant that you might find off a Kyoto alley. We slid into the family-style tables behind the main dining room and commenced to feast. There’s a $100 tasting menu if you are feeling adult, but my tribe ordered cream-like tofu with dried fish, foie gras skewers and a dozen other items.
Chinatown became our go-to-spot for snacks and boba tea between adventures. A favorite spot became Pho 90, a low-key Vietnamese cafe with outstanding noodle dishes and exquisitely layered banh mi sandwiches for picnics in the wild.
Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles west of the Strip, is like walking into a Road Runner cartoon with a Technicolor ballet of clashing tectonic formations. We grabbed our admittedly reluctant brood on a 2.4-mile, round-trip hike on the Keystone Thrust Trail through a series of gullies until we emerged above epic white limestone cliffs jutting through the ocher-colored mountains. Here we had our Vietnamese picnic overlooking the monolithic casinos in the distance.
Rail Explorers has set up rail bike tours on the abandoned tracks leading to the Hoover Dam construction site. We booked a sunset tour (from $85 to $150 for a tandem quad bike). After some quick instruction, we, along with three dozen other visitors, climbed into an 800-pound, four-person Korean-made bike rig and, giving the group ahead of us a three-minute head start for some space, started peddling.
Our route was along four miles of desert track gently sloping into a narrowing canyon pass. As we effortlessly peddled at 10 miles per hour, we noticed that the spikes holding down the railroad ties were often crooked or missing. “I bet these were all driven in by hand,” my teenage son, Cody, a history buff, noted.
In the enveloping dusk, we glimpsed shadows moving along the sagebrush: bighorn sheep, goats and other critters emerging for their nocturnal wanderings. But the most surreal sight was at the end of the ride, where a giant backlit sign for a truck stop casino appeared over a desert butte — Vegas was beckoning us back, but now we welcomed the summons. Here we were, peddling into the sunset, feeling more athletic, cool and (gasp!) enlightened than when we first rolled into Vegas four days ago. Oh what good parents we were!
“The moniker of ‘Sin City’ is totally wrong,” Mr. Alvarez told me, “if you know where to look.”