It’s late March in a coastal town in Mozambique, and a group of militants is on the attack. Thousands of civilians flee as their town is left burning behind them. This isn’t the first time scenes like this have played out here, but it’s the first time we’ve seen them captured in such detail. A crisis has been unfolding as local insurgents who’ve pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, execute the largest land grab by an ISIS-linked group in years. And this has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. And now, over the course of about a week, the insurgents are attacking Palma, a strategic port town with massive global investment. In one scene, hundreds shelter in a hotel while a battle rages outside. The question they’re asking … … is the Mozambique government going to save them? It isn’t. The government exaggerated its response in the days after the attack. But we found that government forces weren’t able to defend Palma, leaving its citizens to mostly fend for themselves against the insurgents. Evacuations that did happen had to be hastily organized by private companies. For years, the government has heavily censored media coverage of the conflict, obscuring much of what’s happening. But we can still discover clues about the situation by examining what is aired by local media … … like state-run broadcaster, TVM, and by Sky News, which went to Palma after the attack. Combining this footage with visual evidence from survivors, satellite analysis and ship-tracking data allows us to build a fuller picture of an attack which many felt was not a question of if it would happen, but when. The insurgency is known locally as Al-Shabaab, and it first emerged in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. Al-Shabaab’s recruitment is mostly local, and draws on grievances over extreme poverty and corruption. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State … … but how close these ties really are is hotly debated. The government, however, tries to maintain the illusion of safety and calm for international investors. But insurgent activity and control have escalated over time, overwhelming Mozambique’s severely under-resourced government forces. Now in March 2021, those forces are tested again. The insurgents’ target, the town of Palma, lies here. Just South of Palma is the site of Africa’s largest foreign direct investment, a liquefied natural gas project where the primary investor is French oil and gas company Total. The project is hailed as a massive new revenue source that could transform the country, but it’s also controversial, in part, because its construction displaced many local villages. In the months before the attack, insurgents were getting closer to Palma, prompting Total to strike a deal with the Mozambican government for better security at the multibillion dollar gas site. We analyzed satellite imagery which shows at least nine recently constructed military outposts at key positions around the site. It’s clear that the natural gas project, and not the town, is the most secure place when insurgents move in. Now we come to March 24, the day Al-Shabaab advances on Palma. They quickly take control of parts of the coast and all key roads leading into the town — to the southwest, cutting off a key crossroads for military reinforcements. West on this road, and to the north on this road alongside the town’s airstrip. Video obtained and verified by The Times shows a plane trying to land there coming under fire. In it we get a rare glimpse of the insurgents. Multiple eyewitnesses told us that the government forces inside Palma retreated quickly after some pockets tried and failed to fight off the insurgents. We were also told that around 750 soldiers stationed at the gas site stay inside the facility instead of rushing to the city as backup. There’s little footage of the insurgents from during the attack. But Islamic State media did release this footage claiming to show the fighters preparing, along with claims that they targeted a good deal of the town’s infrastructure. The Times confirmed damage to two banks, government offices, the town’s business park, and military and police buildings. The roads are cut off, and the only ways help can now arrive are by sea and air. Three government helicopters are moved from at least 85 miles away to the airstrip of the natural gas site. But multiple eyewitnesses told us that the helicopters only attempt to fly into Palma once and quickly retreat under fire. Other helicopters do come to the rescue, but they’re not government helicopters. They belong to the Dyck Advisory Group, or DAG, a South African military contractor hired by Mozambique to help fight the insurgency. Their presence is controversial. Recently, Amnesty International accused them of war crimes, claims which they deny. DAG is one of the only actors capable of conducting rescues. Its executives told The Times that they intervened on their own without any clear instruction from the government. DAG heads here to the Amarula Hotel. Its guests are mostly foreign. Now they’re joined by over 100 others from around Palma trying to flee. “We’re going to Amarula, bro.” But who should be rescued first and why? With no government oversight, there’s no plan. It falls to people like the hotel’s manager to come up with one. He’s speaking publicly here for the first time. DAG ultimately makes four rescue flights, but their helicopters can’t hold much. And just a little over 20 people make it out. Those left wonder if the military will send in the larger helicopters we showed you before, one of which can carry upwards of 30 people. With no help coming, they developed their own evacuation plan using vehicles from the hotel’s parking lot to drive outside the town. Some take this route to a quarry, where they believe they’ll be rescued. As people are loading into the cars, the hotel’s owner arranges a last-ditch helicopter rescue. It carries members of her staff and her two dogs. She denies the dogs took up space that could have been used by people. The flight is made by a private company that the hotel often chartered for tourist excursions. As for the DAG helicopters, because they have weapons, they provide air cover for this final helicopter rescue. As the ground convoy prepares to make the risky escape over land, there’s still confusion over whether they will receive air support too. But the aerial resources are stretched too thin, and the cars won’t all make it. Photographs showed that several of the vehicles were ambushed and forced off the road. Only a few safely reached this quarry and spend the night hiding. DAG rescues them the next day and dozens more civilians from elsewhere. The government help never comes. With limited air evacuations, thousands of people throughout the area are forced to flee on their own. The man who shot this video told us what happened. Tens of thousands go on foot or by bus across the province toward other cities and towns. Many more people line up at the natural gas site run by Total, where at least some government security is present. Sources tell us that civilians were often denied entrance. As the crowd at the site grows, Total decides to organize a rescue, mostly for its own staff. It charters this ferry, seen here docked at the natural gas site. The Total employees appear to be protected by this ship, known as an Ocean Eagle 43, a patrol and surveillance vessel run by the Mozambican government. It’s one of the few signs of government intervention during the attack on Palma. Ship-tracking data shows they flee south alongside this convoy of mostly private boats. The ferry arrives in the provincial capital of Pemba with over 1,300 passengers, most of them employees. And it makes a second rescue out of Palma a few days later, this time with more locals on board. After the weeklong attack, repercussions were immediately felt — because of the violence, Total has suspended its natural gas operations indefinitely, raising serious concerns about Mozambique’s economic future and the people it left behind. Dozens of Total’s contractors and subcontractors still remain in Palma. Some told The Times that the company hasn’t checked on their safety. Total didn’t respond to our request for comment. Based on our tally of evacuations, only a small number of Palma’s population were rescued during the attack. Roughly 95 percent of the population was left behind. Mozambique’s defense ministry didn’t respond to our questions about their operations in Palma. But after the attack, the country’s president downplayed the severity of violence in the city. His forces have since re-entered the town, assuring people that it’s safe to return. It’s not. A month after the attack, this thermal image reveals large fires burning in Palma, and satellite imagery confirms at least 50 buildings, some of which are seen here, have burn damage. There are near-daily reports of gunfire here. Civilians hoping to escape this threat are forced to rely on a volunteer group working with private companies to organize flights and barges. The cycle of violence plaguing Mozambique for three years continues. Even now, residents must flee on their own, unable to trust in their government to save them.
This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country have been effected by the pandemic.
The Covid pandemic hit California hard. It has seen well over 3.5 million cases and over 60,000 deaths. Scores of businesses have closed. But for Ana Jimenez the owner of Tacos El Jerry, a small fleet of food trucks in Santa Cruz County, it provided an opportunity to bring her business into the 21st century.
Ms. Jimenez’s four trucks began taking orders through an app and a website, delivering directly to customers, and cultivating a customer base through a new social media presence. All of that added up to a significant increase in sales.
Facebook and Instagram pages for the food trucks, a social media advertising campaign and began accepting credit card purchases. “Each truck is now serving around 300 people per day, which translates to roughly $5,000 in sales daily,” Ms. Jimenez said.
Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options. That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world.
“While the pandemic has certainly hurt the majority of small businesses, it has also pushed many to be more innovative by looking for new revenue streams and ways to reach customers,” said Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University.
Like Ms. Jimenez, some businesses have “focused on ways to maintain their customer base by, for example, delivering products directly to customers,” Prof. Eddleston said. “While others have created products and services that attract new customers.”
Blue Sparrow food trucks in Pittsburgh, adding pizza, four-packs of local beer, gift cards and five-ounce bottles of housemade hot sauce.
Mr. Cypher’s main fare since he hit the streets in 2016 has been global street food. His menu carries a heavy Asian inspiration. There’s made-from-scratch kimchi on the menu daily. Dishes can include rice bowls, Vietnamese banh mi, falafel burritos, and a burger made with a ramen bun.
During the pandemic, Mr. Cypher’s business took a hit when 24 festivals and over a dozen weddings where he was booked were canceled. “I switched gears to keep things as lean as possible,” Mr. Cypher said.
He temporarily shut down a second food truck — a retrofitted 35-foot, 1956 Greyhound bus that he used for the big parties — and introduced a website to interact with his customers and an online ordering system for his smaller truck, which he usually parked at a neighborhood brewery.
“I switched the menu to focus on soups, noodles, burritos and pressed sandwiches, so that the things that we were handing our customers would make it home and still be a good experience after they opened up the bag and took it out,” he said.
Today in Business
And he began to make and sell pizza one day a week at the kitchen where he used to do his prep work for the trucks before the pandemic. (The pizza, too, has an international flair: a banh mi pie, for example, made with pork or tofu, miso garlic sauce, mozzarella, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro.)
Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit organization providing small-business owners with access to capital, networks and coaching. “Many food truck owners stepped forward to seize opportunity during a time of great uncertainty,” she said.
As Pittsburgh emerges from the pandemic, Mr. Cypher is adding a twist at his kitchen location. “We have licensing to offer beer on draft from our local breweries, so we’re going to have a small beer garden,” he said. “And that’s a revenue stream that we’re going to kind of lean into that we probably never would have done if not for Covid.”
In 2020, Mr. Cypher’s food trucks had $200,000 in gross sales, down about 40 percent from the previous year, he said. “But with the new offerings, more efficiency and only running one rig, we were actually able to net enough to keep the business moving forward,” he said. “This year we’re already up about 30 percent from where we were at last year at this time.”
Shiso Crispy, timing was much tricker: she opened her first truck in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. And yet Ms. Whaley, 35, who offers handmade gyozas, bao buns and their signature dish, dirty rice, now has two trucks because of a strategy of regularly parking in certain neighborhoods and offering discounted and free meals outside a nearby Ronald McDonald House. (She added the second truck in January.)
One challenge: “The internet here is shoddy. And cellphone service in different areas out here just doesn’t work,” she said. “During the height of the pandemic, I was consistently losing two or more transactions at my point of sale every shift.”
Clover Flex point of sale program for touchless transactions. “It has digitally transformed my business,” Ms. Whaley said.
She also signed on to an app, called Best Food Trucks, that allows customers near her to pre-order once they know her location for the day.
“The inextricably connected stories of food trucks and Covid are a perfect microcosm of the undeniable reality that women, immigrants and people of color, historically relegated to the edges of the economy, are actually the foundation upon which the next economy must be built,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, author of “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.”
But the silver lining from the pandemic for some operators is more personal — including bringing families together. “I have a ton of wisdom about how to operate food trucks and cooking,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s the coming together of the generations that made the business stronger now and for the future.”
An eviction in East Jerusalem lies at the center of a conflict that led to war between Israel and Hamas. But for millions of Palestinians, the routine indignities of occupation are part of daily life.
By David M. Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon
JERUSALEM — Muhammad Sandouka built his home in the shadow of the Temple Mount before his second son, now 15, was born.
They demolished it together, after Israeli authorities decided that razing it would improve views of the Old City for tourists.
Mr. Sandouka, 42, a countertop installer, had been at work when an inspector confronted his wife with two options: Tear the house down, or the government would not only level it but also bill the Sandoukas $10,000 for its expenses.
Such is life for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation: always dreading the knock at the front door.
six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem set off a round of protests that helped ignite the latest war between Israel and Gaza. But to the roughly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has controlled through decades of failed peace talks, the story was exceptional only because it attracted an international spotlight.
For the most part, they endure the frights and indignities of the Israeli occupation in obscurity.
Even in supposedly quiet periods, when the world is not paying attention, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely experience exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that force agonizing choices, and the fragility and cruelty of life under military rule, now in its second half-century.
Underneath that quiet, pressure builds.
If the eviction dispute in East Jerusalem struck a match, the occupation’s provocations ceaselessly pile up dry kindling. They are a constant and key driver of the conflict, giving Hamas an excuse to fire rockets or lone-wolf attackers grievances to channel into killings by knives or automobiles. And the provocations do not stop when the fighting ends.
Home on the Edge
No homeowner welcomes a visit from the code-enforcement officer. But it’s entirely different in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians find it nearly impossible to obtain building permits and most homes were built without them: The penalty is often demolition.
shot and killed a teenager who was wandering among the rock-throwers and spent tear-gas canisters.
Al Mughrayyir was one of the few villages still mounting regular Friday protests. They began after settlers cut off access to some of the villagers’ farmland. The boy’s death became a new rallying cry.
The army says it raids Palestinian homes at night because it is safer, and ransacks them to search for weapons, in routine crackdowns aimed at keeping militance in check.
But the raids also inspire militance.
Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son outside in the dark, “afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him.”
“It makes you want to take revenge, to defend yourself,” he went on. “But we have nothing to defend ourselves with.”
Stone-throwing must suffice, he said. “We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.”
Settlers send messages, too. They have cut down hundreds of Al Mughrayyir’s olive trees — vital sources of income and ties to the land — torched a mosque, vandalized cars. In 2019, one was accused of fatally shooting a villager in the back. The case remains open.
A Family Divided
For Majeda al-Rajaby the pain of occupation never goes away. It slices straight through her family.
A twice-divorced teacher, Ms. al-Rajaby, 45, is divided from her five children by the different ways Israel treats Palestinians depending on where they are from.
She grew up in the West Bank, in Hebron. But both her ex-husbands were Jerusalem residents, allowing them to travel anywhere an Israeli citizen may go. The children were entitled to the blue IDs of Jerusalem residents, too. Hers remained West Bank green.
Both her husbands lived in Shuafat refugee camp, a lawless slum inside the Jerusalem city limits but just outside Israel’s security barrier. West Bankers are not allowed to live there, but the rule is not enforced.
She had thought she was marrying up. Instead, she said her husbands “always made me feel inferior.”
After the second divorce, she was left on her own, with her green ID, to raise all five children with their blue IDs. The distinction could be life-threatening.
When a daughter accidentally inhaled housecleaning chemicals, Ms. al-Rajaby tried to race her to the closest hospital, in Jerusalem. Soldiers refused to let her in. As a teacher in Shuafat, she had a permit to enter Jerusalem, but only until 7 p.m. It was 8:00.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Her children are older now, but the distinction is just as keenly felt: Ms. al-Rajaby allows herself to be excluded from joyful moments and rites of passage so her children can enjoy advantages unavailable to her.
She stays behind on the Palestinian side of the security barrier while they head off to Jaffa or Haifa, or on shortcuts to Hebron through Jerusalem, a route forbidden to her. “West Banker,” they tease her, waving goodbye.
One daughter is 21 now and engaged and goes on jaunts into Israel with her fiancé’s mother. “I should be with them,” Ms. al-Rajaby said.
Last summer, Ms. al-Rajaby moved out of Shuafat to a safer neighborhood just outside the Jerusalem city limits, in the West Bank. That means her children could lose their blue IDs if Israel determined that their primary residence was with her.
“I’m not allowed to live there,” she said of Shuafat, “and my daughters are not allowed to live here.”
Constrained as she is, Ms. al-Rajaby wants even more for her children than freedom to move about Israel.
In 2006, her daughter Rana, then 7, was burned in a cooking accident. An Italian charity paid for treatment at a hospital in Padua. Mother and child stayed for three months.
The experience opened Ms. al-Rajaby’s eyes. She saw green parks, children in nice clothes, women driving cars.
“It was the moment of my liberation,” she said. “I started thinking: ‘Why do they have this? Why don’t we?’”
Today, she urges all her children to see the world, and holds out hope that they might emigrate.
“Why,” she asked, “should someone keep living under the mercy of people who have no mercy?”
Working for the Occupation
Try as they might to make their accommodations with Israel, Palestinians often find themselves caught in the occupation’s gears.
Majed Omar once earned a good living as a construction worker inside Israel. But in 2013, his younger brother was spotted crossing through a gap in Israel’s security barrier. A soldier shot him in the leg.
Mr. Omar, 45, was collateral damage. Israel revoked his work permit just in case he had ideas about taking revenge — something Israel says happens too often.
He sat unemployed for 14 months. When Israel reissued his permit, it only allowed him to work in the fast-growing West Bank settlements, where workers are paid half as much, searched each morning and supervised by armed guards all day.
Which is how he came to be the foreman on a crew that remodels Jewish homes and expands Israeli buildings on land the Palestinians have long demanded as part of their hoped-for state.
In a small way, it’s like digging his own grave, Mr. Omar said. “But we’re living in a time when everyone sees what’s wrong and still does it.”
Violence is often sudden and brief. But the nagging dread it instills can be just as debilitating.
Nael al-Azza, 40, is haunted by the Israeli checkpoint he must pass through while commuting between his home in Bethlehem and his job in Ramallah.
At home, he lives behind walls and cultivates a lush herb and vegetable garden in the backyard. But nothing protects him on his drive to work, not even his position as a manager in the Palestinian firefighting and ambulance service.
Recently, he said, a soldier at the checkpoint stopped him, told him to roll down his window, asked if he had a weapon. He said no. She opened his passenger door to take a look, then slammed it shut, hard.
He wanted to object. But he stopped himself, he said: Too many confrontations with soldiers end with Palestinians being shot.
“If I want to defend my property and my self-respect, there’s a price for that,” he said.
His commute is a 14-mile trip as the crow flies, but a 33-mile route, because Palestinians are diverted in a wide loop around Jerusalem along a tortuous two-lane road of steep switchbacks. Even so, it ought to take less an hour — but often takes two or three, because of the checkpoint.
The Israelis consider the checkpoint essential to search for fleeing attackers or illegal weapons or to cut the West Bank in two in case of unrest. Palestinians call it a choke point that can be shut off on a soldier’s whim. It is also a friction point, motorists and soldiers each imagining themselves as the other’s target.
Idling and inching along, Mr. al-Azza compared traffic to blood flow. Searching one car can mean an hour’s delay. The soldiers are so young, he said, “They don’t feel the weight of stopping 5,000 cars.”
He thinks only of those delayed. “When they impede your movement and cause you to fail at your job, you feel like you’ve lost your value and meaning,” he said.
A few nights each week, delays force him to sleep at work and settle for video calls with his three children.
On weekend outings, the checkpoint takes a different toll on his family.
“I try to keep my kids from speaking about the conflict,” he said. “But they see and experience things I have no answer for. When we’re driving, we turn the music on. But when we reach the checkpoint, I turn it off. I don’t know why. I’ll see them in the mirror: All of a sudden, they sit upright and look anxious — until we cross and I turn the music back on.”
Deadly scenarios constantly play out in Mr. al-Azza’s head: What if a tire blew out or his engine stalled? What if a young soldier, trained to respond instantly, misconstrued it as a threat?
“It’s not possible to put it out of mind,” he said. “When you’re hungry, you think about food.”
In the Bubble
No Palestinian is insulated from the occupation’s reach — not even in the well-to-do, privileged “bubble” of Ramallah, where Israeli soldiers are seldom seen.
Everyone Sondos Mleitat knows bears the scars of some trauma. Her own: Hiding with her little brother, then 5, when Israeli tanks rolled into Nablus, where she was raised.
In the dark, she said, he pulled all his eyelashes out, one by one.
Today, Ms. Mleitat, 30, runs a website connecting Palestinians with psychotherapists.
Instead of reckoning with their lingering wounds, she said, people seek safety in social conformity, in religion, in the approval gleaned from Facebook and Instagram likes. But all of those, she said, only reinforce the occupation’s suffocating effects.
“This is all about control,” she said. “People are going through a type of taming or domestication. They just surrender to it and feel they can’t change anything.”
After her uncle was killed by Israeli soldiers at a protest, she said, his younger brother was pushed into marriage at 18 “to protect him from going down the same path.”
But a nation of people who reach adulthood thinking only about settling down, she said, is not a nation that will achieve independence.
“They think they’re getting out of this bubble, but they’re not,” she said.
Mr. Sandouka earns about $1,800 in a good month. He hoped the lawyer could quash the demolition order. “I thought they would just give us a fine,” he said.
Then he got another panicked call from home: “The police were there, making my family cry.”
Khalas, he said, enough. He would tear it down himself.
Early on a Monday, his sons took turns with a borrowed jackhammer. They almost seemed to be having fun, like wrecking a sand castle.
Finished, their moods darkened. “It’s like we’re lighting ourselves on fire,” said Mousa, 15.
“They want the land,” said Muataz, 22. “They want all of us to leave Jerusalem.”
In 2020, 119 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished, 79 of them by their owners.
When all was rubble, Mr. Sandouka lit a cigarette and held it with three beefy fingers as it burned. His pants filthy with the dust of his family’s life together, he climbed atop the debris, sent photos to the police and contemplated his options.
Moving to the West Bank, and sacrificing Jerusalem residency, was unthinkable. Moving elsewhere in Jerusalem was unaffordable.
A friend offered a couple of spare rooms as a temporary refuge. Mr. Sandouka’s wife demanded permanency.
“She told me if I don’t buy her a home, that’s it — everyone can go their separate ways,” he said.
He turned his eyes uphill toward the Old City.
“These people work little by little,” he said. “It’s like a lion that eats one, and then another. It eventually eats everything around it.”
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.”
FRANKFURT — One of postwar Germany’s most spectacular terrorism trials opened Thursday, with federal prosecutors laying out their case against a military officer who they said had been motivated by a “hardened far-right extremist mind-set” to plot political murder in the hope of bringing down the country’s democratic system.
The case of First Lieutenant Franco A., whose surname is abbreviated in keeping with German privacy laws, shocked Germany when he was arrested four years ago and has since pushed the country to confront a creeping threat of infiltration in the military and the police by far-right extremists.
Franco A. was caught in 2017 trying to collect a loaded gun he had hidden in an airport bathroom. His fingerprints later revealed that he had a second — fake — identity as a Syrian refugee, setting off alarm bells and an investigation that would span three countries and multiple intelligence agencies. Prosecutors have accused him of planning terrorist attacks using that identity with the intention of stoking growing fears over immigration in Germany and triggering a national crisis.
The case has become the latest warning for a country that has spent decades atoning for its Nazi past but that also has a track record of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism and terrorism.
far more extensive than they had imagined.
One group, run by a former soldier and police sniper in northern Germany, hoarded weapons, kept enemy lists and ordered body bags, and is the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation. Another, run by a special-forces soldier code-named Hannibal, put the spotlight on the KSK, Germany’s most elite force. Last year, after explosives and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major, an entire KSK unit was disbanded by the defense minister.
In all these cases the authorities had failed to identify extremists inside the institutions, sometimes for years. Franco A. is no exception. He received glowing reports from superiors throughout his military career even as he wrote and publicly spoke about his far-right views.
In 2014, after submitting a Master’s thesis riddled with far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, he was asked to write another one. But he was never reported even though a military historian who had been asked to assess the thesis called it a “a radical nationalist, racist appeal.”
Ms. Weingast, the prosecutor, described Franco A.’s views as stemming from a “longstanding hardened far-right extremist mind-set” that was particularly hostile to Jews. Franco A., she said, was convinced that Zionists were waging a “race war” that would lead to the extinction of the German race. He considered Germany to be under occupation by the United States.
All this had motivated him to plan “a violent attack on life” that would “create a climate of fear,” Ms. Weingast told the court.
“This was the intention of the accused,” she said.
According to the indictment, Franco A. had gone beyond abstract plotting and in July 2016 had traveled to Berlin to visit the workplace of one of his alleged targets, Ms. Kahane, the Jewish activist. He drew a sketch of the location of her office and took several pictures of the license plates of cars in the parking garage.
Franco A.’s lawyer, Mr. Fricke-Schmitt, dismissed any suggestion that his client had a far-right mind-set. “He is interested in rowing,” he said. “He listens to punk music.”
But Franco A. kept a record of his far-right ideas in a diary and a series of audio memos on his phone. The New York Times has a transcript of these audio memos.
In them he praises Adolf Hitler, indulges in global Jewish conspiracies, argues that immigration has destroyed Germany’s ethnic purity, hails Russian President Vladimir V. Putin as a role model and advocates destroying the state.
HONG KONG — As tear gas and fiery street clashes swirled around her two years ago, the Hong Kong painter Bouie Choi wondered how she would eventually render them on canvas.
The answer, exhibited at a local gallery about a year later, was “borrowed space_borrowed time,” her suite of brooding, ethereal landscapes that evoked ancient Chinese scroll paintings and captured a city transformed by civil unrest. Specific visual references to the protests were subtly blended into layer upon layer of washed-out acrylic brush strokes.
“My previous landscape works were quite peaceful and distanced from what happened in reality; they were more surrealistic,” Ms. Choi, 33, said in an interview. “But this exhibition was quite different because the relationship between me and the city had changed.”
street art and political posters that lionized protesters as heroes or explicitly poked fun at Hong Kong’s government and its allies in Beijing. Some of that work was produced by people with established careers in fine arts.
a national security law that China’s central government imposed on the territory last summer and the mass arrests of opposition politicians, activists and lawyers that followed.
Artists, writers and filmmakers know that whatever they create could run afoul of the national security law, which criminalizes anything that the Chinese government deems terrorism, secession, subversion or collusion with foreign powers. Institutions like art galleries are wary of taking risks. One curator said privately that talking about art and politics was especially sensitive ahead of Art Basel Hong Kong, a major international fair that opens this week.
Some Hong Kong curators have been quietly asking artists to tone down certain pieces, consulting with lawyers about how to avoid prosecution under the national security law and even calling the police to discuss potentially sensitive works before exhibiting them, said Wong Ka Ying, a member of a union that represents about 400 Hong Kong artists.
“We now act like we’re in Beijing or Shanghai,” she said.
Yet several young Hong Kong artists are daring to produce work about the 2019 protests anyway, albeit with heavy doses of abstraction and ambiguity. A few talk about their artistic process in polemical terms; others, like Ms. Choi, say they are merely responding creatively to the experience of living through a once-in-a-generation trauma.
pro-democracy demonstrations that are now seen as preludes to the giant outpouring of civil disobedience in 2019.
Eight years ago, for example, the artist South Ho walled and unwalled himself with bricks that said, “Made in Xianggang,” the word for Hong Kong in Mandarin, mainland China’s dominant tongue. Photographs of his stunt were exhibited in 2017 by the Asia Society’s Hong Kong gallery, alongside other pieces that conveyed a sense of helplessness toward Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
Now the space for expression is narrower. A government funding body recently said that it had the power to end grants to artists who promote “overthrowing the government,” and state-owned newspapers have denounced a collection by a local museum that is expected to open soon and owns works by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
More than a dozen Hong Kong artists and gallerists either declined to be interviewed for this article or did not respond to requests for comment.
traffic scene on wire mesh to depict fences that went up near a cross-harbor tunnel that antigovernment protesters targeted in 2019. He also used yellow tape to frame walls where the authorities had painted over antigovernment graffiti.
Unreasonable Behavior,” a mixed-media solo show by Siu Wai Hang that included photographs of the 2019 protests that the artist had punched, ripped or cut.
Teenage girls with bricks,” an abstract work with collapsing perspectives and vague pastel figures. The gallery’s curatorial statement said the work depicted female protesters who had been discouraged by male comrades from joining the front lines of street clashes.
And this spring, at the Asia Society’s Hong Kong gallery, the artist Isaac Chong Wai installed “Falling Carefully,” a mixed-media piece featuring three life-size mannequins of the artist, each suspended in a different stage of free fall. A nearby wall displayed his sketches of protesters and riot police officers during antigovernment demonstrations in Hong Kong and beyond, including Armenia, Russia and Uganda.
fell, suffering fatal injuries, as police officers clashed with protesters.
Henry Au-yeung, the director ofGrotto Fine Art, the gallery that exhibited the paintings last fall, wrote in an essay that they depicted “social unrest,” but also that “clear images do not mean clarity of event; what is veiled can well be the hidden truth.”
By the time Melinda French Gates decided to end her 27-year marriage, her husband was known globally as a software pioneer, a billionaire and a leading philanthropist.
But in some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. That is attracting new scrutiny amid the breakup of one of the world’s richest, most powerful couples.
In 2018, Ms. French Gates wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, according to two people familiar with the matter. After Mr. Gates moved to settle the matter confidentially, Ms. French Gates insisted on an outside investigation. The money manager, Michael Larson, remains in his job.
On at least a few occasions, Mr. Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to people with direct knowledge of his overtures. In meetings at the foundation, he was at times dismissive toward his wife, witnesses said.
public view, Ms. French Gates was unhappy. She hired divorce lawyers, setting in motion a process that culminated this month with the announcement that their marriage was ending.
a public appearance in 2016.
Long after they married in 1994, Mr. Gates would on occasion pursue women in the office.
In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr. Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Mr. Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to The New York Times.
in a column in Time magazine announcing the pledge.
money manager, earning solid returns on the Gateses’ and the foundation’s combined $174 billion investment portfolio through a secretive operation called Cascade Investment. Cascade owned assets like stocks, bonds, hotels and vast tracts of farmland, and it also put the Gateses’ money in other investment vehicles. One was a venture capital firm called Rally Capital, which is in the same building that Cascade occupies in Kirkland, Wash.
Rally Capital had an ownership stake in a nearby bicycle shop. In 2017, the woman who managed the bike shop hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates.
The letter said that Mr. Larson had been sexually harassing the manager of the bike shop, according to three people familiar with the claim. The letter said the woman had tried to handle the situation on her own, without success, and she asked the Gateses for help. If they didn’t resolve the situation, the letter said, she might pursue legal action.
The woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment, the three people said.
While Mr. Gates thought that brought the matter to an end, Ms. French Gates was not satisfied with the outcome, two of the people said. She called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman’s allegations, and of Cascade’s culture. Mr. Larson was put on leave while the investigation was underway, but he was eventually reinstated. (It is unclear whether the investigation exonerated Mr. Larson.) He remains in charge of Cascade.
published an article detailing Mr. Gates’s relationship with Mr. Epstein. The article reported that the two men had spent time together on multiple occasions, flying on Mr. Epstein’s private jet and attending a late-night gathering at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after he first met Mr. Epstein.
(Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said at the time that he regretted the relationship with Mr. Epstein. She said that Mr. Gates had been unaware that the plane belonged to Mr. Epstein and that Mr. Gates had been referring to the unique décor of Mr. Epstein’s home.)
The Times article included details about Mr. Gates’s interactions with Mr. Epstein that Ms. French Gates had not previously known, according to people familiar with the matter. Soon after its publication she began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the timing of her lawyers’ hiring.
The revelations in The Times were especially upsetting to Ms. French Gates because she had previously voiced her discomfort with her husband associating with Mr. Epstein, who died by suicide in federal custody in 2019, shortly after being charged with sex trafficking of girls. Ms. French Gates expressed her unease in the fall of 2013 after she and Mr. Gates had dinner with Mr. Epstein at his townhouse, according to people briefed on the dinner and its aftermath. (The incident was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.)
For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein’s home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women, said two people who were there and two others who were told about the gatherings.
Ms. Arnold said Mr. Gates never socialized or attended parties with Mr. Epstein, and she denied that young and attractive women participated at their meetings. “Bill only met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy,” Ms. Arnold said.
On at least one occasion, Mr. Gates remarked in Mr. Epstein’s presence that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to people who heard the comments.
Leon Black, the head of Apollo Investments who had a multifaceted business and personal relationship with Mr. Epstein, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The meeting was held at Apollo’s New York offices.
It is unclear whether Ms. French Gates was aware of the latest meetings with Mr. Epstein. A person who recently spoke to her said that “she decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.”
As hospitals in Nepal strain to cope with one of the world’s fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks, relief groups in the Himalayan nation are asking mountain climbers to hand over their used oxygen cylinders so that they can be refilled for Covid-19 patients.
The unusual appeal reflects the strange duality in Nepal: While hundreds of foreign climbers are attempting costly expeditions to the summits of Mount Everest and other peaks, the impoverished nation down below is facing urgent shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen, coronavirus test kits and other supplies.
Expedition operators are preparing to airlift thousands of cylinders from the Himalayas as expeditions are completed this month, the culmination of the climbing season. Kul Bahadur Gurung, general secretary of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, estimated that tour companies would be able to provide at least 4,000 cylinders by the first week of June.
“We are asking them not to leave even a single oxygen cylinder in the mountains,” Mr. Gurung said.
Climbers attempting to reach the top of Everest, the world’s tallest peak, and other mountains carry oxygen to help them breathe in the thin air. Although Nepal prohibits leaving equipment behind in the mountains, canisters are sometimes left buried in the snow by exhausted climbers or stashed by expedition companies for later use.
catastrophic surge in India, with which it shares a long, porous border. On May 1, Nepal reported 26 deaths from the virus. On Tuesday, the official death toll was 225.
Doctors say that a shortage of medical oxygen is a factor in many of the deaths. Many hospitals have stopped admitting new Covid-19 patients, citing a lack of oxygen. Wealthy families are airlifting their loved ones by chartered helicopter to cities where they can find intensive-care beds. Other patients are being treated in makeshift emergency facilities set up in parking lots and other open spaces.
With almost half of Nepal’s coronavirus tests coming back positive, health experts warn that the worst is yet to come.
China has pledged to provide Nepal with 20,000 oxygen cylinders and 100 ventilators, the first batch of which arrived on Tuesday.
Expedition companies are stepping in with smaller donations. Mr. Gurung’s group said that he was sending five dozen cylinders, along with a few more from a local mountaineering museum, to hospitals treating coronavirus patients.
Mingma Sherpa, chairman of Seven Summit Treks, Nepal’s largest expeditions operator, said that he planned to ship as many as 500 cylinders used in expeditions to Everest and other peaks soon after climbers descended to base camps.
“My only condition is that those cylinders should be used for poor and helpless people rather than V.I.P.s,” he said, adding: “It’s our responsibility to help the government during these trying times. We will do it happily.”
Before the pandemic, the trains of New Jersey Transit could be cattle-car crowded, with strangers pressed so closely against you that you could deduce their last meal. That level of forced intimacy now seems unimaginable.
After the outbreak, ridership on New Jersey trains, which in normal times averaged 95,000 weekday passengers, plummeted to 3,500 before stabilizing at about 17,500. A similar pattern held for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road lines: in February 2020, nearly 600,000 riders; two months later, fewer than 30,000.
For many months, the commuter parking lots were empty, the train stations closed, the coffee vendor gone. At night, the trains cutting through Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester or Wyandanch on Long Island or in Maplewood, N.J., were like passing ghost ships, their interior lights illuminating absence.
But in recent weeks, as more people have become vaccinated, New Jersey Transit and the M.T.A. have seen a slight uptick, to about a quarter of their normal ridership.
Perhaps this signals a gradual return to how things had been; or, perhaps, it is a harbinger of how things will be, given that many people now feel that they can work just as efficiently from home.
Mourners in protective gear, or watching from home. Long waits at the cremation grounds. The trauma of loss has become both lonely and public.
NEW DELHI — The lifeless are picked up from infected homes by exhausted volunteers, piled into ambulances by hospital workers or carried in the back of auto-rickshaws by grieving relatives.
At the cremation grounds, where the fires only briefly cool off late at night, relatives wait hours for their turn to say goodbye. The scenes are photographed, filmed, broadcast. They are beamed to relatives under lockdown across India. They are shown on news sites and newspapers around the world, putting India’s personal tragedies on display to a global audience.
Local residents record the fires from their roofs to show the world why they must wear masks even inside their homes. The smoke and smell of death is so constant, so thick, that it covers the narrow lanes for much of the day, seeping through shuttered windows.
The flames bear witness to the devastation wrought by India’s Covid-19 crisis. They show the losses in a country where the dead and infected are widely believed to be grossly undercounted. They stand as a rebuke to a government accused of mismanagement by many of its people.
Before the body of Darwan Singh arrived at Seemapuri — the token given to his family indicated that he was No. 41 in line — the family had done all they could to save the 56-year-old guesthouse guard.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
His fever had persisted. His oxygen level had dropped to a dangerous 42 percent. For two days, the family could find him neither a hospital bed nor an oxygen cylinder. When they found one, said his nephew, Kuldeep Rawat, he received oxygen for one hour before the hospital ran out.
The family took Mr. Singh home for the night. The next day, they waited for five hours in the parking lot of another hospital. The family paid a bribe of about $70 to get his uncle a bed at a free government hospital, Mr. Rawat said. Mr. Singh died overnight.
With Seemapuri fully booked, the hospital couldn’t immediately hand over the body. On April 25, it was piled onto an ambulance with five others and taken there.
Mr. Rawat said he had to go inside the ambulance to identify his uncle, then move him inside the crematory, where they waited for five hours before his turn at the pyre. The cost: $25 for material needed for the final prayer, $34 for wood, $14 in fees for the pandit and $5 for the P.P.E. kit for family members.
Mr. Rawat said his uncle’s family — mother, wife, daughter, son — was infected. Relatives could not come to the house for mourning and offered their condolences by phone.
“And I am still in isolation,” Mr. Rawat said, fearing that he had been infected during the final rites.
For families living around the crematories, there is no escaping the constant reminder of death as they await what feels like their own inevitable infection.
In Sunlight Colony, a mix of shanty homes and apartments where some of the houses share a wall with Seemapuri, smoke is so constant that many are forced to wear masks inside. Children are given hot water to gargle before bedtime. Laundry is dried indoors.
“Our kitchen is upstairs — it’s unbearable in there,” said Waseem Qureishi, whose mother and six siblings live in a two-bedroom house still under construction next to Seemapuri. “If the wind’s direction is toward our home, it’s worse.”
Anuj Bhansal, an ambulance driver who lives near the Ghazipur crematory, also in eastern New Delhi, said he was worried about his four children, aged 7 to 12.
Mr. Bhansal said that as the cremations reached as many as 100 a day, the neighborhood’s children would run to a nearby garbage hill and watch.
“When they look at flames and smoke coming out of the cremation ground, they ask why it is not ending,” Mr. Bhansal said. “They can hardly understand what is going on.”