TIME Italy

8 Dead After Passengers Evacuated From Burning Italian Ferry

Passenger is helped as he leaves from the " Spirit of Piraeus" cargo container ship as they arrive in Bari harbour, after the car ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in waters off Greece
A passenger is helped as he leaves from the " Spirit of Piraeus" cargo container ship as they arrive in Bari harbour, after the car ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in waters off Greece December 29, 2014. Reuters

427 people were rescued, including 56 crew members

At least eight passengers have died after a grueling evacuation of an Italian ferry was completed Monday, more than 24 hours after the ship burst into flames Sunday in the Adriatic Sea.

Search efforts are continuing after the all survivors were evacuated by Monday afternoon, with 427 people rescued, including 56 crew members, from the Norman Atlantic ferry, the Associated Press reported.

The original ferry manifest contained 422 passengers and 56 crew members, but officials said it was too early to speculate if people were still missing, as some may have not boarded the ferry. Officials also said some survivors were not listed on the manifest, which suggests they had been traveling illegally.

Poor weather conditions and choppy seas reportedly slowed rescue efforts being carried out by Italian and Greek authorities.

“It will be a very difficult night. A night in which we hope we will be able to rescue all on board,” said Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, according to the Associated Press.

Medical personnel had been dropped on to the ferry to treat passengers who were believed to be suffering from hypothermia as they waited for rescuers to evacuate the rest of the ship.

Officials last inspected the craft less than two weeks ago and six deficiencies were reportedly discovered; however, the vessel was still deemed seaworthy, according to AP.

The fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning on the ferry’s car deck, when nearly 500 people were on board, including 422 passengers and 56 crew members.

[AP]

TIME Italy

High Winds Slow Rescue Operation for Hundreds Trapped on Burning Ferry

The fire broke out while the Italian ship traveled in Greek waters in the Adriatic Sea

At least one person was killed Sunday as rescue workers carried out an operation to save nearly 500 passengers trapped aboard an Italian ferry where a fire broke out.

Reports suggest that more than 125 passengers have been rescued by helicopter crews that were airlifting two passengers at a time from the ferry to a nearby ship, according to Reuters.

The fire broke out while the ship was traveling in Greek waters in the Adriatic Sea. The ferry has since drifted into Italian waters. Rescue workers from both countries, along with officials from Albania, have responded to the incident.

Officials said that the rescue operation has been slowed by poor conditions, including high winds and heavy rain.

“We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one, no one will be left helpless in this tough situation,” said Greek Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. “It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done.”

[Reuters]

TIME

The Quirky Ways 7 Other Countries Celebrate Christmas

JAPAN-JAL-KFC
Japan Airlines President Yoshiharu Ueki (2nd L) and Masao Watanabe (2nd R), President of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan pose with a statue of Colonel Sanders (C) wearing a Santa Claus costume during a photo session after a press conference to announce their new "AIR Kentucky Fried Chicken" in-flight fried chicken service, in Tokyo on November 28, 2012. KAZUHIRO NOGI—AFP/Getty Images

Italy's Epiphany witch, Iceland's "Yule cat" and why Japan eats KFC at Christmas

If you’ve ever considered it odd that U.S. Christmas traditions revolve around indoor trees (real and plastic) and a plump, bearded man sliding down chimneys… you’re not wrong.

In fact, our conception of Santa Claus can largely be attributed to a single 1828 poem, Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which enshrined the nation’s image of Santa–with his “little round belly” and a beard “as white as the snow–and propagated the idea of him coming through chimneys to deliver gifts in stockings, now common knowledge to children across the country. It’s just one of the ways our Christmas traditions can be traced to quirks of history.

But odd and seemingly arbitrary Christmas traditions are not only the purview of the United States. Around the world, in countries that are majority Christian and countries that are majority not, unique practices emerge as the holiday approaches.

Here’s a look at some of the notable and sometimes bizarre Christmas time traditions around the world.

Japan

The vast majority of Japan is not Christian, but one Christmas tradition persists: a trip to KFC. Since a “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign was launched in Japan in 1974, the American chain has become a popular Christmas Eve hotspot. The campaign worked so well that sales that night typically outpace those of the rest of the year. Some people even order their bucket of fried chicken ahead, to beat the Christmas crowds.

Sweden

In the Swedish town of Gävle, it is traditional to construct a 30-foot tall giant straw “Yule Goat” — a Christmas symbol in Sweden for centuries. And it’s tradition for some meddling kids (actually, unidentified criminal arsonists) to try to burn it down. According to the Gävle tourist board, the goat has been burned down 25 times since its construction became an annual tradition in 1966. So far this year, the Gävle goat is safely standing, as you can see on this webcam. You can also follow him on Twitter.

India

Christians comprise roughly 2 percent of the Indian population, or 24 million people. But Christmas trees in the warm climate are in short supply, so in lieu of the evergreen conifer many Indian families will adorn banana or mango trees with ornaments. In Christian communities, which are mostly in southern India, people put oil-lamps of clay on their flat roof-tops to celebrate the season.

Ukraine

Americans would recognize the Christmas trees decorated in Ukraine, as they’re similar to the traditional, Western fir tree, but Ukrainians will sometimes decorate them with an unlikely ornament: spider webs. The tradition stems from a Ukrainian folk tale, about a widow whose family was so poor they had no money to decorate their tree. Instead, a spider span a web around it on Christmas Eve — and when the first light of day hit it on Christmas morning, it turned into a beautiful web of gold and silver.

Iceland

Beware the Yule Cat! This traditional Christmas fiend is said to terrorize the Icelandic countryside, particularly targeting those who don’t receive new clothes for Christmas. But the frightening festive feline is just one of Iceland’s “Christmas fiends”, who include Grýla, a three-headed ogress with goat-horns. The creature’s sons, the “Yule Lads”, hand out Christmas gifts to children who have been good (and rotten vegetables to those who have been bad).

Italy

Only in Italy do the witches bring gifts to children. That’s La Befana, a broom-flying, kindly witch who effectively takes over from Santa–in Italy, “Babbo Natale”—about two weeks after Christmas on Epiphany to deliver gifts to the good, and ash to the bad. Though the witch has her roots in the pre-Christian pagan tradition, she features in some tellings of the Christmas story in Italy — as an old woman who refuses to give the Wise Men directions to Bethlehem because she is too busy cleaning, and is forced to ride a broomstick for eternity as a result. The town of Le Marche, in northwestern Italy, celebrates her coming every January.

Czech Republic

Save the ham. In the Czech Republic, carp is the mainstay of a Christmas dinner. The tradition of eating carp on Christian holidays dates back as far as the 11th century, when Bohemian monasteries would construct fishponds for the express use of farming the fish. Until recently, Czech families would buy a live carp in the weeks before Christmas and keep it in a bathtub, before slaughtering it on Christmas Eve ready for the following day’s meal. Many Czechs still take part in the festive superstition of saving a dried (and cleaned) scale from the Christmas fish in their wallets for luck over the coming year.

READ NEXT Here’s Where to Watch Your Favorite Christmas Movies

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TIME Italy

Watch Thousands of Tango Dancers Celebrate Pope Francis’s Birthday in Rome

The Argentinian has expressed fondness for his country's dance

There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a dance party, and for Pope Francis’s 78th, that means a massive tango party in the streets of Rome. Thousands gathered in and around the Vatican City to sing happy birthday in Italian, Spanish and other languages and dance to tango music—an Argentinian import like Francis himself.

Before becoming the Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave an interview for the book The Jesuit by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti expressing his love for the tango. “I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s something that comes from within me.”

[Reuters]

TIME faith

Pope Francis Says There’s a Place for Pets in Paradise

Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican
Pope Francis leads his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Dec. 10, 2014 Stefano Rellandini—Reuters

The head of the Catholic Church promises that some dogs, at least, do go to heaven

Pope Francis confirmed during his weekly address in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square that canines, along with “all of God’s creatures,” can make it to heaven.

The leader of the Catholic Church made the remark in order to comfort a young boy who was mourning the death of his dog, according to the New York Times.

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,” said the 77-year-old Pontiff, according to Italian news sources.

Pope Francis has been cast as a much more liberal figure compared with his predecessors. Since ascending to the church’s helm last year, he has attempted to engage with homosexuals and unwed couples and backed the Big Bang Theory.

[NYT]

Correction: The original version of this story misattributed a quotation from Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978, to Pope Francis. It was Pope Paul VI who said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ.” The original version of this story misinterpreted comments made by Francis who said in recent remarks, according to Vatican Radio, “The Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” This quotation was interpreted in press accounts to mean that the Pope believes all animals go to heaven. A Vatican spokesman told Reuters on Dec. 13 that this was not the Pope’s intended message.

Read next: The Pope Just Received a Fly Pair of Custom Diesel Sweatpants

TIME Food & Drink

How a McDonald’s Restaurant Spawned the Slow Food Movement

The McDonald's arches logo is displayed outside a McDonald's
The McDonald's arches logo is displayed outside a McDonald's fast food restaurant Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Slow Food Manifesto was signed 25 years ago, on Dec. 10, 1989

When Italy’s first McDonald’s franchise opened at the heart of Rome in 1986, the opposition came from all angles. Officials said it didn’t have the right construction permits; celebrities called it the “Americanization of Italy”; politicians said it ruined a historic center; neighbors said it was noisy and its odor unbearable; thousands of people rallied outside the location in the Piazza di Spagna.

One of the opponents, an Italian journalist named Carlo Petrini, took a novel approach by handing out plates of penne to the protesters.

“I was alarmed by the culturally homogenizing nature of fast food,” Petrini told TIME years later, in the magazine May 17, 1999, issue.

The McDonald’s franchise, said at the time to be the world’s largest, remained — but Petrini’s grievances would extend far beyond the Piazza di Spagna. He established the Slow Food association that year, aiming to protect traditional foods and advocating for agricultural biodiversity,

On Dec. 10, 1989, three years after the franchise opened in Rome and 25 years ago today, he joined representatives of 15 countries in Paris for the signing of the Slow Food Manifesto, and the international Slow Food movement was born.

Today, the movement boasts more than 150,000 members across 150 countries. TIME described Petrini in 2004 as a revolutionary who “changed the way we think about eating.”

And it was all thanks to McDonald’s.

Read TIME’s 2008 story about the movement: Can Slow Food Feed the World?

TIME portfolio

Face to Face with Europe’s Military Cadets

Paolo Verzone's newest book saw him travel to 20 military academies from Portugal to Spain over five years to photograph cadets.

One of the most striking things, Paolo Verzone says, about photographing military cadets is that they really know how to pose. In fact, they are so good at it that sometimes, when he was taking their pictures, he wondered if they would ever stop.

“They are able to stay still for four seconds without moving,” Verzone adds. “That’s a long time, and it was pretty amazing. I actually had to light them less, it was my secret photographic weapon.”

It’s understandable, he continues, because from very early on in their careers many are trained to remain still during drills. Military personnel make even more capable subjects than models, apparently. Who knew?

This discovery came as Verzone was working on his newest book Cadets. The project stemmed from a short assignment for an Italian magazine in 2009 (for which he was sent to photograph French military personnel), and saw him travel to 20 military academies from Portugal to Spain over five years. The aim? To understand the military “soul” of European countries.

“I wanted to see these places, the [military bases] in these countries, many of which were once fighting against each other,” Verzone says.

It wasn’t always easy: Not every military academy replied to his requests. And even when they did, it took a long time for him, as a civilian, to get permission to go inside. And even then he was rarely left alone. But it was something he wouldn’t give up on.

“I wanted to see who these young people are. To go beyond the idea of the one who gets in the army and stays there for life,” he says. “Now, military academies are very different places; you can get a complete degree, and then, for many, you can get out. Times are changing.”

Paolo Verzone is a Paris-based photographer who has been published in TIME, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent, and The Guardian among others. Cadets is available now.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.

Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise.

TIME Italy

Disgraced Costa Concordia Captain Insists He Saved Lives

Costa Concordia Trial
Captain of Costa Concordia Francesco Schettino stands during the hearing in the court for his trial, where he gave evidence for the first time, on December 3, 2014 in Grosseto, Italy. Laura Lezza—Getty Images

He tells the court that the evacuation was delayed in order to reach shallower waters

Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino claims that his decision to delay evacuation of the cruise ship saved lives.

“Had I sounded the nautical signal for abandon ship — seven long whistles and one short one — people would have thrown themselves into the water,” he said Wednesday in court, reports Sky News.

Schettino is being tried for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy in January 2012, killing 32 of its 4,299 passengers.

After hitting rocks near the island of Giglio, Schettino says he believed the ship would drift into shallower waters, which would facilitate an evacuation. He claimed to be in full control of the situation, stating that: “I was number one on the ship after God,” but also seemed to spread the blame: “It’s not like the captain is alone on a ship, it’s not like I’m a truck driver.”

Earlier in the day, a video emerged showing Schettino prepared to abandon ship, apparently contradicting his claims that he “tripped and stumbled into a lifeboat.”

During his first day on the stand on Tuesday, the former captain admitted that he had tried to impress passengers by navigating the ship closer to the coast than usual.

TIME Italy

Disgraced Concordia Captain Was ‘Trying to Impress Passengers’

ITALY-SHIPPING-TOURISM-DISASTER-TRIAL
Costa Concordia's captain Francesco Schettino attends the resumption of his trial on December 2, 2014 in Grosseto, Italy. Giuseppe Cacace —AFP/Getty Images

Francesco Schettino claims he wanted to give passengers a better view of a nearby island when the ship ran aground

The captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia that crashed off the coast of Italy in January 2012 said his disastrous decision to sail into shallow waters was fueled by a desire to impress the ship’s passengers, according to the BBC.

While taking the stand for the first time during his trial for manslaughter in Grosseto, Italy on Tuesday, Francesco Schettino said he was aiming to give passengers a better view of the holiday island of Giglio, while also saluting a former captain who lived there and doing a favor to the vessel’s head waiter, who was from the island.

“I wanted to kill three birds with one stone,” explained Schettino.

He denied the rumor that he made the risky maneuver to impress a female friend.

Thirty-two people died after the ship crashed into rocks near the shore and the boat listed on its side. The resumption of Schettino’s trial comes a month after authorities successfully recovered the last body from the cruise ship’s wreckage.

The captain was vilified in the media and dubbed “Italy’s most hated man” after an audio recording revealed that he defied orders from the Italian Coast Guard and fled the ship after ordering an evacuation, while hundreds of passengers remained on board.

[BBC]

TIME Italy

Italy Investigating 11 Deaths Possibly Linked to Flu Vaccine

The Italian Pharmaceutical Agency has yet to confirm a link

Italy is investigating the deaths of several people who took an influenza vaccine as the total death toll climbed to 11.

An additional eight fatalities possibly related to Novartis AG’s Fluad vaccine have been identified, Bloomberg reports. As a precaution, two batches of the drug were suspended after three people died within 48 hours of getting the shot.

“At the moment it’s not possible to confirm that there is a direct link between taking the vaccine and the reported deaths,” the Italian Pharmaceutical Agency said in a statement. “More complete information is necessary and a thorough analysis of the cases must be conducted.”

Novartis said Fluad, which was approved in 1997, has a “robust” history of safe usage and that there was “no causal relationship” found between the deaths and the vaccine.

[Bloomberg]

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