Your Thursday Briefing – The New York Times

At a meeting in Moscow yesterday, Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi, the leaders of Russia and Iran, sought to showcase tightening bonds between two countries with a common adversary: the U.S. Now is the time to take on “the power of the Americans with an increased synergy between our two countries,” Raisi told Putin.

The meeting comes as the U.S. prepares for a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Speaking at the White House, President Biden said that he expected Putin to act imminently, even if it did not amount to a full-scale invasion of the country. “My guess is he will move in,” he said. “He has to do something.” This map shows how Russian troops are threatening Ukraine.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, will meet with Russia’s foreign minister on Friday. He warned that Russia could attack Ukraine “on very short notice” and warned of “confrontation and consequences for Russia” if it were to do so. Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, disputed the assertion. “We will not attack, strike, invade, quote unquote, whatever, Ukraine,” he said.

Aid for Ukraine: It was not clear if Blinken had offered concrete measures to help Ukraine, but the Biden administration has approved an additional $200 million in defensive security aid. That money comes in addition to $450 million in such aid that the U.S. provided Ukraine in the last fiscal year.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has sent infections and hospitalizations soaring in Spain. Yet tourists remain undeterred, in part because unlike some of its neighbors, Spain does not require a negative test to enter the country. And its message to tourists has remained largely the same as before the surge in cases: Please come.

Like other countries, Spain is trying to balance how much economic pain it can tolerate as it tries to keep its people safe. Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for roughly 12.4 percent of the country’s economic output. Memories of recent financial ruin are especially raw. The Spanish economy contracted more than 11 percent in 2020 — the worst decline since the Civil War of the 1930s.

Though Spain has introduced some restrictions, the government has indicated that it is not likely to impose more. Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, said that the country should accept that the virus had become a fact of life. “We are going to have to learn to live with it as we do with many other viruses,” he said.

By the numbers: Western European countries now have some of the highest infection rates in the world. In Spain, new cases rocketed from an average of fewer than 2,000 a day in early November to more than 130,000 daily in the past week.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s billionaire former prime minister, is working hard to persuade lawmakers to vote for him for the country’s presidency next week, despite an unusual résumé for a job resting on moral authority. This career-culminating position as the country’s head of state could allow him to wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

The Italian presidency is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics, is yet another contender.

But Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior, including a conviction for tax fraud and investigations over mob links, made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Official remarks: Behind the scenes, Berlusconi is working the phones and laying on the charm, upping his Christmas-gift game from ties to framed oil paintings. Amid speculation that he might drop out of the race, he issued a statement: “I haven’t decided. I’m an optimist.”

It was heralded as the real estate deal of the century: a 30,000-square-foot 16th-century villa in downtown Rome complete with a masterpiece painted on its ceiling — by Caravaggio — at a cool asking price of 471 million euros, or $533 million.

Yet when the Villa Aurora went up for auction on Tuesday, there were no offers at the minimum bidding price. Now, an online petition is calling on Italy’s culture ministry to buy the villa, which returns to the block on April 7, with its price slashed by 20 percent to a mere €377 million.

André Leon Talley, a larger-than-life fashion editor who went from the racially segregated U.S. South to the front rows of Paris couture, died at 73.

Philippe Gaulier has taught clowns for about half a century. Alumni of his school who have weathered his process — which is characterized by blunt, flamboyantly negative feedback — include Sacha Baron Cohen, Emma Thompson and Kathryn Hunter.

The criticisms might include “You sound like overcooked spaghetti in a pressure cooker” or “You are a very good clown for my grandmother.” He frequently focuses on the eyes. “If you are funny,” he told me, “you have funny eyes.”

Compared to other clowning teachers, Gaulier, who is French, does not emphasize technique or physical virtuosity. He aims for something more intangible, a sense of play onstage. The most important quality in a clown is keeping things light and present and, as he says with the utmost respect, stupid.

Finding “your idiot,” as he calls it, is the essence of clowning. “A clown is a special kind of idiot, absolutely different and innocent,” he said. “A marvelous idiot.”

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