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    • Obituary: Miriam Rodríguez Martínez died on May 10th
      on May 17, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      THE narcos who infested San Fernando, in Tamaulipas state in north-eastern Mexico, did not always trouble to bury their victims. They left them by the side of Highway 101, a road some people said was the most dangerous in the country. Or they took them to some abandoned ranch in the rolling hills round the town, shot them and piled them up in one room. They did that in 2010 with 72 migrants from Central America, pulling them off their buses as they tried to travel to the United States. Sometimes, though, the killers would hide their victims. Over several months in 2011 the police found 47 mass graves outside town with 193 bodies, probably bus passengers. And more graves could turn up anywhere, in the hard, stony ground among the thorn bushes. You could tell they were there because a bad smell hung around, or the ground was sunken or disturbed. Or you might spot a piece of bone. Miriam Rodríguez knew such signs well, because in 2014 she found, in... […]

    • Obituary: Ueli Steck died on April 30th
      on May 11, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      THE most terrifying thing that happened to Ueli Steck was not the moment an avalanche caught him on Annapurna, the tenth-highest mountain in the world, and almost knocked him off. Nor was it the time when—perhaps because, on the same mountain, a rock hit his helmet—he found himself in an instant 300 metres below, concussed and bruised all over. Each event caused him to wonder whether he liked risky climbing too much. But as one of the best alpinists of his generation, and often the fastest, he did not wonder long. No, the most frightening episode occurred in April 2013, when he found himself under attack by a crowd of rock-throwing sherpas at Base Camp II on Everest. That was the moment he thought he might die, a thought he had not had before. The sherpas were angry because, as they fixed the safety ropes above the camp, he and two others had ignored the rule to keep the mountain clear of climbers and had come up past them. He had no wish to be... […]

    • Obituary: Albert Freedman died on April 11th
      on May 4, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      THERE was no doubt who sponsored “Twenty One”, the NBC quiz showAlbert Freedman took over in 1956. The word “Geritol” appeared above the stage and on the lectern of the host, Jack Barry. Barry gave “America’s number-one tonic” a plug at the start, and in the intermission up popped the salesman like a conjurer from the curtains, cradling that familiar brown bottle and promising that if you felt weak and run-down, Geritol would vitaminise your tired blood in a matter of days. So when the boss of Geritol complained that “Twenty One” too was tired, and threatened to take it off the air, Mr Freedman was recruited to save it. Briefly put, he had to get rid of Herb Stempel, an expressionless, awkward nerd from Queens who, with his extraordinary memory, just kept on winning, and find someone more sympathetic to replace him; someone exciting. That was the purpose of this shiny new medium, television, after all. It offered spectacle, showmanship, illusion, escape; it carried, like those Geritol commercials and the ever-smiling blondes who decorated the sets, a whiff of the fairground. And Mr Freedman, at 34, having said yes, was on his way to contriving the biggest American scandal... […]

    • Obituary: Emma Morano died on April 15th
      on April 27, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      THOSE who live to be very old are never previously famous. Few in the world know them, and they know almost nothing of the world. Emma Morano had never been to Rome, let alone abroad. Her world was Pallanza-Verbania on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, stretching to Varallo Sesia in the hills, where she had family. The fading photographs she would lay out, on a lace cloth, for reporters showed herself and her siblings enjoying lunch outside, posing in Pallanza’s main square and on the lakeside promenade, all within a stroll of the tiny flat, down an alley by the church of San Leonardo, where she still lived. For her last 15 years, though she could walk, she did not leave it. The very old tend not to have led glamorous lives. They work deep in the fabric of the everyday. Miss Morano’s job, from the age of 13 to 55, was in Maioni’s jute factory, sewing sacks for potatoes. After that, she worked for 20 years as a dinner lady at a local college. The young Emma wondered sometimes, since she had a lovely voice—a voice that would stop men in their tracks when she sang “Parlami d’amore, Mariu” from the window—about a musical career. But the thought wasn’t serious, and... […]

    • Obituary: Yevgeny Yevtushenko died on April 1st
      on April 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      BABI YAR was the site of the most notorious massacre of the Holocaust. But when Yevgeny Yevtushenko visited the ravine outside Kiev in 1961, he found no monument there to the nearly 34,000 victims, just lorries dumping piles of stinking rubbish. He hurried away and wrote a poem, decrying not only the Nazi executioners but also Soviet anti-Semitism and the amnesia it fostered. The leaders of the tavern mob are ragingAnd they stink of vodka and onions.Kicked aside by a boot, I lie helpless.In vain I plead with the brutesAs voices roar:“Kill the Jews! Save Russia!” It was brave, heartfelt—and well-timed. Nikita Khrushchev’s thaw was breaking over the Soviet Union, and the previously unsayable was being said. Dmitri Shostakovich set “Babi Yar” to the opening movement of his 13th Symphony. Shamefaced Soviet Ukrainian bureaucrats closed the tip and put up a modest memorial. To his fans, the episode epitomised the Yevtushenko they adored: an idealist who spoke for his generation, a man whose humanism transcended the cold war. They flocked in their tens of thousands to his readings of his own and other writers’ work,... […]

    • Obituary: Adrian Coles died on March 23rd
      on April 12, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      “FROM Clee to heaven the beacon burns,” runs the opening line of A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”. The Clee hills, rising to 1,700 feet, are the highest points in the county. From there, across green slopes scoured and scattered with ruins of old quarry buildings, the view south opens over the valley of the Teme to the blue hills of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. To the slopes clings Clee Hill village which, until it closed, had Shropshire’s highest pub (called “The Kremlin” because, via the radar aerials on the hill, its juke box could pick up Radio Moscow). The sole hostelry is now the Golden Cross, where the regular beer is Hobsons Twisted Spire and visitors can play, on ancient battered equipment, quoits and pitch-penny. A bakery and post office stand along the main A 4117, which is not very main here. In fact, because it crosses common land, at two points it is spanned by a cattle grid. Several other cattle grids lie around Clee Hill, and it was one of those that led Adrian Coles to hedgehogs. At the time, indeed for 40 years, he was the local county councillor. The job mostly involved meetings about schools, social services, flytipping and the like... […]

    • Obituary: David Rockefeller died on March 20th
      on April 5, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      WHEREVER he went in the world—and in his 35 years at Chase Manhattan Bank, from 1946 to 1981, he ran up 5m air miles—David Rockefeller carried a small jar in his pocket. It was in case he found a beetle on the way. From the age of seven, partly from his own solitary, careful catching, partly from expeditions he sponsored, he built up a collection of 90,000 specimens from 2,000 species, carefully labelled and stored in airtight hardwood boxes at the 3,400-acre family place in Pocantico Hills. His preference was for wood-borers, leaf-cutters and tunnellers, whose industrious activity changed the world in ways few people saw. Networks, part-public, part hidden, were his speciality. As a Rockefeller, whose millions had bolstered Rockefeller University and the Rockefeller Centre and whose Picassos, Matisses and Cézannes filled the Museum of Modern Art, he was a fixture on the New York social, cultural and political scene. He did great things for the city, helping to revive Lower Manhattan and to build the World Trade Centre; while also holding its feet to the fire, during its bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, by demanding savage budget cuts and the sacking of thousands of workers. From his first job, as secretary to Fiorello La Guardia, every mayor of New York was drawn into his net. His gaze went much further, however. As an... […]

    • Obituary: Derek Walcott died on March 17th
      on March 30, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      OVER more than five decades of producing some of the 20th century’s best poetry, Derek Walcott found many local metaphors for his trade. He was a bent astronomer, tracing out the circle of time in the singeing stars above the mango trees; the careful stenciller of a flowered window frame, or the planer of a canoe; an egret stalking the reeds, his pen’s beak “plucking up wriggling insects/like nouns and gulping them”. Above all, though, he was a poet-mariner, a rusty-head sailor with sea-green eyes, “a red nigger who love the sea”, as locals said: red because he had Dutch, English and black in him, the inevitable mingling of voyagers to the Caribbean. All roads led to the sea, it was always visible; the roar of the surf was in his body, and its rhythm in the lines he wrote. Each dawn, after cigarette and coffee, he was called to his blue portable typewriter “like a fisherman walking towards the white noise/of paper, then in its hollow craft sets his oars.” His pen became a sea-dipping swift crossing and recrossing the waters, like memory, or a crab, “obliquity burrowing to surface”. Inevitably the hero of his greatest poem, “Omeros”, was a simple fisherman, Achille, who in a... […]

    • Obituary: Martin McGuinness died on March 21st
      on March 21, 2017 at 9:21 am

      THERE were four moments, Martin McGuinness said, that made him a republican. The first—the one that made him raise his head from his job packing bacon for Doherty’s in Derry, and take an interest in civil rights—was when the Royal Ulster Constabulary beat up marchers in Duke Street in October 1968. He was 18 then, and for the first time he took up stones, bombs, anything, and spent his evenings attacking the police. The moment he remembered longest, though, was when they took young Dessie Beattie’s dying body out of a car by his house. It was July 8th 1971, the first time that the British army had used lead bullets in Northern Ireland. Blood was everywhere. It shocked him, and scared him more than a little. He had never seen anyone killed by a bullet before. It was crystal clear to him that this was a war, and had to be fought like one. Armies must oppose armies. There was a peaceful path available, through political pressure and the Social Democratic and Labour Party, but he did not take it. Nothing could be achieved that way. His aim was now to fight until the last British soldier was driven down the River Foyle or down the Lagan, and Ireland became a socialist... […]

    • Obituary: Gustav Metzger died on March 1st
      on March 15, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      IN A puffy bomber-jacket and a gas mask, Gustav Metzger started on his work of art on London’s South Bank in 1961. He had written out his own terse orders: “Acid action painting. Height 7ft. Length 12ft. 6in. Depth 6ft. Materials: nylon, hydrochloric acid, metal. Technique. 3 nylon canvasses coloured white black red are arranged behind each other, in this order. Acid is painted, flung and sprayed onto the nylon which corrodes at point of contact within 15 seconds.” That was it. The small curious crowd then dispersed, reminded—he hoped—of the transience of art and the mindless violence of man. Even simpler was “Construction with glass”. “Materials: glass, metal, adhesive tape. Technique. The glass sheets suspended by adhesive tape fall on to the concrete ground in a pre-arranged sequence.” Crash, the end. His dreams were longer-term, though. He would get large, thin steel sheets made in a factory, then installed outside where, over ten years, they would rust away. Or he would build a structure of 10,000 geometric forms from which, continuously, one form would be removed… Art that consumed itself, auto-destructive as he called it,... […]

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