But the shifting epicenter of natural disaster has now fallen on Evia, a densely wooded island northeast of Athens, once best known for its beekeepers and resin producers, its olive groves and seaside resorts, and now a capital of the consequences of a warming planet.

This week, as firefighters scrambled to put out rekindling fires and helicopters dropped seawater to sate licking flames, acres of burned hillsides and fields lay under white ash, as if dusted with snow.

I drove through winding roads riddled with fallen trees and electric wires. Smoke hung low, like a thick fog. The trunks of mangled trees still smoldered and the hive boxes of beekeepers looked like burned end tables abandoned in empty fields. Miles away from the fires, the smoke still left an acrid taste in my mouth. Ash drifted around cafes where waitresses constantly watered down tables and the sun imbued the dense haze with a sickly orange hue.

“We lived in paradise,” said Babis Apostolou, 59, tears in his eyes as he looked over the charred land surrounding his village, Vasilika, on the northern tip of Evia. “Now it’s hell.”

This week, the fires covered new ground. In the southern Peloponnese, where wildfires killed more than 60 people in 2007, a long stretch of fire tore through forest and houses, prompting the evacuation of more than 20 more villages. But many Greeks have refused to leave their homes.

When the police told Argyro Kypraiou, 59, in the Evia village of Kyrinthos to evacuate on Saturday, she stayed. As the trees across the street blazed, she fought the airborne barrage of burning pine cones and flames with a garden hose. When the water ran out she beat back the fire with branches.

“If we had left, the houses would have burned,” she said across from the still smoldering ravine. A truck rolled by and the driver leaned out the window, shouting to her that there was another fire in the field behind her house. “We keep putting out fires,” she shouted back. “We don’t have any other job.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister of Greece, has called the recent days “among the hardest for our country in decades” and promised to compensate the afflicted and reforest the land. Residents across the seared north of Evia complained that the government had failed to fly water-dropping aircraft out to them fast enough or that it had waited too long to ask the European Union for help.

Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered up an investigation into whether criminal activity could possibly have sparked the fires, perhaps to clear land for development. Many here blamed mysterious arsonists for starting the fire.

“This is arson,” said Mr. Apostolou. “I had heard they want to put in wind turbines.”

Mr. Tertipis said, “I hope the person who set these fires will suffer as much as my animals.”

But it was also possible that the finger-pointing at arsonists stemmed from a feeling of powerlessness and the need to blame someone — anyone — for a crisis that at least some acknowledged was everyone’s fault.

“We all have to make changes,” said Irini Anastasiou, 28, who expected the fires to keep happening around the world as the planet warmed. She looked out from the front desk of her now empty hotel in Pefki, one of the hardest-hit towns, and saw an opaque wall of haze over the sea.

“Usually, you see clear across to the mountains,” she said. “Now you can see nothing.”

The residents of Evia did what they could. In the town of Prokopi, volunteer firefighters set up base in the Forest Museum (“focused on man and his relationship to the forest”).

Hundreds of boxes packed with supplies for the displaced cluttered the log cabin. They brimmed with crackers and cereals and granola bars. Soft stacks of children-and-adult diapers reached up to the windows. Boxes held medicines and burn creams, aloe vera, Flamigel, hydrogel and Flogo Instant Calm Spray, under a sign promoting TWIG, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group.

An international group of emergency workers operated out of the cabin. Some of the 108 firefighters sent by Romania coordinated with Greek Army officials and local authorities to put out the flames. Some volunteers went out with chain saws to cut down trees while those returning leaned against a wall of bottled water and ruminated on what had gone wrong.

Ioannis Kanellopoulos, 62, blamed heavy snowfall during the winter for breaking so many branches and creating so much kindling on the forest floor. But the intense heat did not help.

“When the fire broke out it was 113 degrees in the shade,” he said.

He said the previous benchmark for destruction in the area was a 1977 blaze. This fire had far eclipsed it, he said, and guaranteed that it would not be surpassed for years.

“There’s nothing left to burn,” he said.

“It’s not California,” added his friend Spiros Michail, 52.

That there was nothing left to burn was the island’s common refrain. The punchline to the terrible joke nature had played on them.

But it wasn’t true. There was plenty more to burn.

At night the fires came back, appearing on the dark hillsides in the distance like Chinese lanterns. The fires burned on the sides of the roads like ghostly campsites.

Stylianos Totos, a forest ranger, stood rod straight as he looked through binoculars at a hillside near Ellinika.

“How do we get access to that one,” he called to his colleague in a truck carrying more than a ton of water. He worried that the wind would change direction from east to west and feed the fire with fresh pines. Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, one of the small flames flared up, lighting all the barren land and twisted branches around it. “Andrea,” he shouted. “Call it in.”

But any help, and any change in global behavior, had come too late for Mr. Tertipis and his flock.

Mr. Tertipis, 60, who lost his mother and suffered permanent scarring on his left arm in 1977’s fire, rushed back from home to his stables before dawn on Sunday. The fire had consumed half his flock, but left a plush green pine tree and verdant field untouched only a few dozen yards away.

“That’s how it is, in five minutes, you live or die,” he said, adding, “the fire just changes all the time.”

For two days he could not answer the phone or do much of anything other than weep. Then he started cleaning up, wading through the remains in galoshes, dragging load after load away, using a sled he fashioned from a hook and a broken refrigerator door.

He had been raising animals all his life, and he said he had no choice but to keep going, no matter how inhospitable the weather around him had become.

“Things may have changed,” he said with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Just give up?”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Evia.

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Not Your Pre-Pandemic Las Vegas

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.”

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Surviving in Isolation, Where the Steppe Has Turned to Sand

The road ends, and the old Soviet car I’m in — a Lada Niva — begins to shake on the unpaved lane. In the darkness, Erdni, the driver, somehow manages to maneuver between large gullies and mounds of sand that seem impossible to discern.

After a couple hours of driving east from the Russian city of Elista, I find myself in the heart of the Kalmyk steppe — at the farming spot, or camp, where Erdni lives with his wife, his children and his father.

equivalent of New Year’s Day, is the date on which Kalmyks traditionally add a year to their age — a kind of culture-wide birthday.

“After surviving 2020,” he says, smiling, “we could easily add five years.”

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Fleeing a Modern War, Syrians Seek Refuge in Ancient Ruins

So many people have fled to Syria’s crowded northwest that families have settled in important archaeological sites. “We, too, have become ruins.”


AL-KFEIR, Syria — As the sun set, children in dirty clothes and battered shoes herded sheep past the towering stone walls of a Byzantine settlement abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, leading them into an ancient cave nearby where the animals would spend the night.

Laundry hung near the semi-cylindrical wall of a ruined, centuries-old church. Vegetables grew between the remnants of two rectangular doorways ornamented with carved leaf patterns. Scattered about were giant cut stones from what had once been an extensive town.

It was here, at the vast archaeological site of al-Kfeir, Syria, where Abu Ramadan and his family sought shelter more than a year ago after fleeing a Syrian government assault.

They’ve been here ever since.

Abu Ramadan, 38, said he cared little for the site’s history as a trading and agricultural center, but appreciated the sturdy walls that blunted the wind and the abundance of cut stones that a family who had lost everything could salvage to piece together a new life.

World Heritage sites in Syria, including, in 2011, the ruins in the northwest, called the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria.

Crac de Chevaliers, one of the world’s best preserved Crusader castles, was littered with rubble when the government seized it from rebels in 2014.

Palmyra, they held executions in its Roman theater.

The historical sites in Syria’s northwest, near the border with Turkey, received less attention before the war. They were so numerous, and so undeveloped as tourist sites, the area felt like an open-air museum.

Visitors could scamper about the remains of pagan temples and early Christian churches, descend into underground storerooms hewn from rocky hillsides, and admire intricate designs around windows and carved crosses over doorways.

The Syrian government branded them “the Forgotten Cities” to attract visitors.

Built between the first and seventh centuries, they provided “a remarkable testimony to rural life” during the transition from the pagan Roman Empire to the Christian Byzantines, UNESCO said.

damaged the Church of St. Simeon, shattering the remains of the pillars on top of which its hermit namesake is said to have lived for nearly 40 years before his death in 459.

Pressure on the sites increased further last year, when a government offensive pushed nearly a million people into the rebel-controlled northwest. About 2.7 million of the 4.2 million people now living in the region have been displaced from elsewhere in Syria.

The rebel-held area is small and crowded, and people are confined, with a wall along the Turkish border to the north to keep them from fleeing and hostile government forces to the south. As the new arrivals scrambled to find shelter in destroyed buildings, olive groves and sprawling tent camps, some settled in the ancient sites.

Families with livestock liked the sites because they had more space than the crowded refugee camps. Many used the sturdy, precut stones to build animal pens or reinforce their tents.

Some sites have underground caves, where families store belongings and hide from airstrikes when they hear fighter jets overhead.

Ayman Nabo, an antiquities official with the local administration in Idlib Province, said shelling and airstrikes had damaged many historical sites while poverty and the chaos of war had encouraged illegal excavations by treasure hunters.

But the greatest threat to the sites’ survival, he said, was people making off with stones or breaking them apart to build new structures.

“If this continues, a whole archaeological site could disappear,” he said.

The local administration lacked the resources to protect the sites, but Mr. Nabo said he hoped they survived, both for future generations and for the people now trapped in what he called “a big prison,” with government forces controlling roads to the Mediterranean coast and the rest of Syria.

“We no longer have a sea,” he said. “We no longer have a river. We no longer have a forest for children to visit.” So people need the sites as “places to breathe.”

For now, they are homes of last resort for battered families.

“Whenever it rains, we get wet,” said Sihan Jassem, 26, whose family had moved three times since fleeing their home and ending up in an improvised tent of blankets and tarps amid the ruins of Deir Amman, a Byzantine village.

“The children play on the ruins and we worry that the rocks will fall on them,” she said.

Her sister, widowed by the war, lived in a nearby tent with five children.

The sun reflected off wet wildflowers, and sheep wandered among the scattered stones, grazing near an ancient wall where a modern romantic had written in spray paint, “Your love is like a medicine.”

But Ms. Jassem found no romance in her surroundings.

“We wish we had stayed in our homes,” she said, “and never seen these ruins.”

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A Cyclist on the English Landscape

A year ago, as a travel photographer grounded by the pandemic, I started bringing a camera and tripod with me on my morning bicycle rides, shooting them as though they were magazine assignments.

It started out as just something to do — a challenge to try to see the familiar through fresh eyes. Soon it blossomed into a celebration of traveling at home.

@roffsmith.

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The Ghosts of Brooks Brothers

ENFIELD, Conn. — The bones of Brooks Brothers stores are scattered across 100,000 square feet here in a warehouse near the Massachusetts border, mixed in with a sea of cardboard boxes and junk.

There are legions of mannequins, empty circular tables that once displayed neckties, posters of horseback-riding gentlemen from a bygone era. There is a whole section of Christmas trees and countless gold-painted ornaments of sheep suspended by ribbon — a Brooks Brothers symbol since 1850 known as the Golden Fleece. Blank order forms for tailors are strewn about. A neon sign that apparently still works. There is no apparel, but there are rows of heavy sewing machines that most likely came from one of the brand’s recently shuttered factories. And in the bathroom, a welcome carpet with Brooks Brothers written in cursive sits next to a toilet.

The whole mass was abandoned here in the fallout of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing and sale last year, the scraps of a retailer that made nearly $1 billion in sales in 2019. Ever since, the couple that owns the warehouse, Chip and Rosanna LaBonte, has been scrambling to figure out how to get rid of it all. Junk removal companies have told them it will cost at least $240,000 to clear the space, which Brooks Brothers had rented through November. In order to pay the bill, the LaBontes are going to have to sell their home.

retail bankruptcies, which cascaded during the pandemic and affected everyone from factory workers to executives. Smaller vendors and landlords have often been left holding the short end of the stick during lengthy byzantine bankruptcy proceedings, particularly with limits on what they can spend on legal bills compared with larger corporations. And once bankrupt brands are sold, people like the LaBontes are typically left in the dust.

corporate bankruptcies in the United States last year, which had the highest number of filings in a decade, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The LaBontes, who are in their 60s, have been working with a liquidator to sell what they can of the Brooks Brothers detritus, and are about to list their home in Sherborn, Mass. While they have filed a claim in bankruptcy court, they are anticipating receiving less than 5 percent of what they are owed, if that — and confessed that the proceedings are hopelessly confusing. Most of all, they are angry and incredulous about the situation, especially as Brooks Brothers continues to operate under wealthy new owners.

entire portions of their closets. J. Crew and the owners of Ann Taylor and Men’s Wearhouse also filed for bankruptcy, while sales nose-dived at chains like Banana Republic. Temporary store closures added to the distress, along with the cancellations of special occasions like proms, graduations, weddings and other events.

All that led up to Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing in July, one of the most significant retail collapses of 2020. Brooks Brothers had dressed all but four U.S. presidents at the time of its filing, and prided itself on its American factories, which were also forced to close.

the SPARC Group, including Lucky Brand denim and Forever 21, leveraging the combination of Authentic Brands’ expertise in licensing famous brand names in various lucrative and creative (and some say equity-destructive) ways and Simon’s real estate portfolio.

At the time of the Brooks Brothers purchase, SPARC committed to keep operating at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations, compared with 424 retail and outlet stores globally before the pandemic.

Under the new owners, Brooks Brothers switched to wire transfers instead of checks, but kept paying rent on the warehouse through November, sending even more goods there as it closed dozens of stores and shuttered its three American factories, Mr. and Ms. LaBonte said. But after Thanksgiving, it sent a letter to the couple rejecting the lease as well as the contents of the warehouse. According to a person with knowledge of the deal, the warehouse and its contents had not been part of SPARC’s purchase of Brooks Brothers. As a result, said Mr. Van Horn said, the new owner most likely has no legal responsibility to the LaBontes.

A representative for SPARC stopped returning requests for comment.

“They used it for all of their store fixtures, so tables, props, fishing poles, canoes, everything you would see that would go in and out of a store to decorate it,” Mr. LaBonte said. “There’s probably 20,000 square feet of Christmas trees — everything except the actual merchandise.”

As to who would want it now: Customers have included local clothing makers looking for mannequins and a set designer from an upcoming HBO series called “The Gilded Age.” Last Monday, an older couple wandered through the space, looking at the Christmas decorations and empty gift boxes. Habitat for Humanity has been looking at the haul for several days and is taking some of the goods. Still, Mr. LaBonte estimated that somewhere around 30 percent of the leftovers have been sold.

The liquidator paid the LaBontes approximately $20,000 to sell what they can through mid-April or so. The couple will not receive a cut, and will deal with what’s left. When junk removal specialists assessed the cost of clearing the space in December, one quote was around $243,000 while the other was closer to $290,000.

“We’re just another Covid casualty to them, we get that,” Ms. LaBonte said of Brooks Brothers. “But I also don’t think they realized how much stuff was there.”

The junk removal firms, which confirmed the prices with The New York Times, said that it was expensive to remove the volume of goods. The costs included labor, multiple trips to dumps, donation and recycling centers, and the use of specialized equipment such as a forklift, large dumpsters and an 18-foot box truck.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rick McDonald Jr., the owner of EastSide Junk, which provided the $243,000 quote to the couple. “They left an astronomical amount of stuff.”

When Authentic Brands, the licensing firm, announced the purchase of Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy last year, Jamie Salter, the company’s chief executive, spoke about the retailer’s legacy and its “incredible history.”

The LaBontes, confronting a warehouse full of some of that history, were unhappy to see those comments.

They put out a statement recently asking: “What kind of heritage can they claim when they operate like low-rent, fly-by-night bullies?”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at sapna@nytimes.com or Vanessa Friedman at vanessa.friedman@nytimes.com.

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Glimpses of Sudan’s Forgotten Pyramids

The site was nearly deserted. A few locals were tidying up after recent restoration work, and young camel drivers were out looking for clients. In the midday heat, the bright glow of the desert helped focus my attention on the pyramids themselves.

Situated on the east bank of the Nile, some 150 miles by car northeast of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, the Meroe pyramids — around 200 in total, many of them in ruins — seemed to be in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape, as if the wind had smoothed their edges to accommodate them among the dunes.

30-year dictatorship of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who led Sudan through a long series of wars and famines, the pyramids of Meroe saw few international visitors and remained relatively unknown.

Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster in 2019 — along with the removal of Sudan in 2020 from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism — was the hope that the country’s archaeological sites might receive broader attention and protections, not simply from researchers and international visitors but also from Sudanese citizens themselves.

ended subsidies on fuel and wheat, leading to a surge in prices. The reaction of the people, exhausted by economic crises, was not long in coming.

A wave of demonstrations filled the streets of several towns, far beyond the capital Khartoum. These were Sudanese of all ethnicities, classes and generations — but above all students and young professionals.

Ancient Nubia, the name of the region that stretches between Egypt and northern Sudan, I discovered that the majority of Sudanese had never had the opportunity to visit these sites — including the doctors themselves.

UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011 — is a four-hour drive from Khartoum, northeast along the Nile River. The pyramids here, built between 2,700 and 2,300 years ago, stand as a testament to the grandeur of the Kingdom of Kush, a major power from the eighth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D.

Compared to the monumental pyramids in Giza, Egypt, the structures at Meroe are significantly smaller — from around 30 to 100 feet tall, against the 455-foot-tall Great Pyramid — and their slopes steeper. As in Egypt, though, the pyramids serve as royal burial sites.

rising floodwaters, as well as the continuing effects of wind and sand erosion.

Plans for new hydroelectric dams also threaten certain archaeological sites in Sudan — as they have in the past, when the construction of the Merowe Dam displaced tens of thousands of residents and led to a frenzied archaeological hunt for artifacts before they were submerged by the dam’s reservoir.

destroyed several of the pyramids in a ruthless search for ancient artifacts.

Alessio Mamo is an Italian photojournalist based in Catania, Sicily, who focuses on refugee displacement and humanitarian crises in the Middle East and the Balkans. You can follow his work on Instagram and Twitter.

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Palestinian Hamlet Embodies Fight for the West Bank’s Future

HUMSA, West Bank — Until last November, Fadwa Abu Awad’s mornings followed a familiar rhythm: The 42-year-old Palestinian herder would rise at 4 a.m., pray, and milk her family’s sheep. Then she would add an enzyme to the pails of milk and stir them for hours to make a salty, rubbery, halloumi-like cheese.

But that routine changed overnight in November, when the Israeli Army demolished her hamlet, Humsa, in the West Bank. When the 13 families who live there resurrected their homes, the army returned in early February to knock them down again. By the end of February, parts of Humsa had been dismantled and rebuilt six times in three months because the Israelis viewed them as illegal structures.

“Before, life was about waking up and milking and making cheese,” Ms. Abu Awad said in a recent interview. “Now we’re just waiting for the army.”

The vigor with which the Israeli Army has tried to demolish Humsa has turned this small Palestinian encampment into an embodiment of the battle for the future of the occupied territories.

formally annex last year. The government suspended that plan in September as part of a deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates.

The army has since destroyed more than 200 structures there, saying they were built without legal permits.

“We’re not shooting from the hip here,” said Mark Regev, a senior adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’re going through with the implementation of the court’s decision. There is no doubt that due process has been served.”

18 percent of the West Bank that Israel has designated a military training zone. And they argue that the herders arrived there at least a decade after the military zone was established in 1972, in the early years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Today, Humsa does not look like much, strewn with the debris of successive demolitions — a broken pink toy, an upturned stove, a smashed solar panel. Even before it was first demolished, it was a community of just 85 people living in a few dozen tents, spread across a remote hillside.

The residents say the Israeli arguments miss a wider injustice.

“We’re the original inhabitants of this land,” said Ansar Abu Akbash, a 29-year-old herder in Humsa. “They didn’t have this land originally — they’re settlers.”

Israel captured the land in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The first herders moved to Humsa in the 1980s because they say they had already been displaced by Israeli activity elsewhere in the West Bank.

The slopes where the herders live and graze their 10,000 sheep are still owned by Palestinians living in a nearby town, to whom they pay rent.

For the herders, the solution is not as simple as moving to the location suggested by the army: They say there is not enough land there for their sheep to roam.

“This is the only place where we can continue our way of life,” Ms. Abu Awad said. “We live through these sheep, and they live through us.”

The Israeli authorities rejected the herders’ applications to retroactively approve their modest encampment, said Tawfiq Jabareen, a lawyer representing the villagers.

That is a familiar dynamic in Area C. Between 2016 and 2018, Israel approved 56 of 1,485 permit applications for Palestinian construction in Area C, according to data obtained by Bimkom, an independent Israeli organization that advocates Palestinian planning rights.

And while the Israeli authorities have targeted Humsa, they have turned a blind eye to unauthorized Israeli construction in the same military zone as the herding community, Mr. Jabareen said.

The army has left untouched several Israeli structures built inside the military zone in 2018 and 2019, even though those structures were also under demolition orders, he said.

“These parallel tracks for dealing with Palestinian and settler communities are a stark illustration of discrimination,” he said.

The government agency that oversees demolitions declined to comment on this issue.

The nearby Israeli settlement of Roi, a village of 200 people built in the 1970s, was designed to fit within a narrow gap between two Israeli military training zones, in compliance with Israeli law.

The residents of Roi appear to have little sympathy for their neighbors. Some said it was the Palestinians who were the interlopers on the land and the Israelis who redeemed it from a barren wasteland.

“Look at what we did here in 40 years and you will understand,” said Uri Schlomi von Strauss, 70, one of Roi’s earliest settlers. “We built the land, we plowed the land, and this gives us the right to the land,” he added. “Why should I have sympathy?”

Across the valley, the herders of Humsa were counting the cost of the most recent demolition. The army had confiscated their water tanks, which the military considers unsanctioned structures. That reduced the water they had to drink and wash with, let alone to give their sheep or prepare the cheese.

One woman had lost all her embroidery, another her prized coat.

Aid groups had given them new tents, but not enough to house their sheep. So the sheep were sleeping in the cold, which the herders said meant they were producing less milk — which in turn meant less cheese to sell at the market.

“I’ve become a very angry and anxious person,” Ms. Abu Akbash said. “I’m overcome with stress.”

As an Israeli-registered car slowly approached the Abu Akbash family tent, the children ran to scoop up their toys, fearing another demolition was imminent.

“Every car they see,” Ms. Abu Akbash said, “they think it’s the army.”

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Can We Learn Anything From Horses?

Dr. Croney, who was not previously familiar with Equus, added, “We don’t want to bash what they’re doing.”

Humans “certainly can influence” horses’ behavior, she said. “But it doesn’t reflect some sort of inherent characteristic in us, is what I’m saying.”

Still, it is possible, Dr. Croney said, even outside the formal trappings of, say, leadership exercises, for people to obtain benefits just from spending time in the presence of animals. This is one premise of “the biophilia hypothesis,” which holds that people are inherently attracted to nature.

“My animal behavior work has made me a far better teacher,” she said.

Working with sheep, Dr. Croney said — “everything scares sheep” — requires her to be still and calm; to notice what the sheep are doing; to take stock of the environment they’re in and even to look at what they’re looking at “so I understand what’s going to impact them.”

“As long as the animals are comfortable, they’re in an environment where they feel safe and protected, and you have the ability to sit and watch them — or even better yet, interact with them safely — all of those are fantastic opportunities,” she said.

When asked what, exactly, Equus does, Ms. Wendorf’s answer was typically starry-eyed and expansive: “We create conditions for people to have breakthrough learning so they can have the lives that they’ve always dreamed of,” she said.

But the flourishing value for herself and Mr. Strachan may be that, in creating a business reliant on contemplative horse observation, they have found a way to perpetually hone skills that make them better than the average person at dealing with all unpredictable, skittish animals — including humans eager to improve themselves at any price.

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