Our year-in-review special looks back at the wacky, weird, and wondrous stories of 2013.
SENSE OF OCCASION
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi defended his country’s Second World War fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, while talking to reporters during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Rome in January. He said that the dictator’s support for Hitler was merely common sense, and that the passing of laws against Italian Jews was “the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good.” More than 6,000 members of the tiny Italian Jewish population died in German death camps.
CHANGE OF COSTUME WE CAN BELIEVE IN
During a prostitution-procurement trial for three ex-aides to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, testimony by Karima el-Mahroug—the then-17-year-old Moroccan woman with whom Berlusconi was accused (in a separate trial) of paying for sex—revealed that aspiring “showgirl” strippers at the Italian multibillionaire’s notorious private disco dressed up not only as nuns and nurses but also as U.S. president Barack Obama.
DEATH BY STOOGES
Georgia State archaeologist Christopher Morehart uncovered 130 human skulls, victims of human sacrifice, near a farming village north of Mexico City. The approximately 1,300-year-old skulls—found, unusually, away from major temple or pyramid complexes—were deposited in rows and mounds facing the rising sun and with finger bones inserted into the eye sockets.
“India is not only the world’s biggest importer of gold, it’s the biggest hoarder of gold.”—World Gold Council managing director Albert Cheng, on the culture of the precious metal in India, where the council estimates there are 18,000 tons of gold stashed in banks and homes. Mumbai’s Standard Chartered Bank puts the value of such “nonproductive” gold at $1 trillion, half of the country’s GDP
A BLIND EYE TO THE PAST
A German parliamentary panel looking into law-enforcement failures in investigating a string of murders of ethnic Turks found an internal document from Baden-Wuerttemberg state police that declared that the killer couldn’t be from Western Europe because “in our culture the killing of human beings is a grave taboo.”
PLEASE DON’T EAT THE GRASS
“They told me only how to cut the grass, but nothing about radiation.”—Munenori Kagaya, 59, a worker in the Japanese off-limits (due to high radiation) town of Tomioka, inside the 20-kilometre restricted zone around Fukushima. Reporters investigating claims that crime gangs had infiltrated the construction companies and subcontractors cashing in on the $16-billion cleanup after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster found cleaners inside the no-man’s-land zone wearing regular work clothes and surgical masks
“They’ll end up burning all of us.”—Gay-pride pioneer Nikolai Alexeyev, on Russian authorities like morality crusader Yelena Mizulina, a member of parliament who is the head of president Vladimir Putin’s Committee on Family, Women, and Children and who has initiated repressive legislation like the recent “homosexual propaganda” ban
“I am not ‘coloured’. I am black. It’s important to say that. I emphasize it proudly.”—Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, that country’s first black cabinet minister, at an introductory news conference after her appointment. The Congolese-born 48-year-old eye surgeon faced immediate taunts from neo-fascist groups and xenophobic politicians
“It was a rainstorm of money.”—Patrick Arnou, the mayor of Zedelgem, Belgium, on the scene last May when robbers being pursued by a motorcycle cop threw a stolen safe out of their car in his path, cracking it open and showering the residential area with $1.3 million in bills. Townspeople young and old, as well as passing motorists, raced to the scene and scooped up the banknotes, but despite the urging of the mayor and police, only about half the money was recovered, and some residents are now afraid they will face jail if they admit they hung on to their ill-gotten windfall. “In the street itself, there is an atmosphere of bitterness,” Arnou said
BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES
The reflected glare off the glass façade of a London skyscraper under construction melted and warped a parked Jaguar’s panels, hood ornament, and mirror, as well as burning a hole in a barbershop’s welcome mat across the street.