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The flight attendants who accompanied Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ back from exile | Culture

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Flight attendant Isabel Almazán was 38 years old on that day, and she insists that she noticed that there was some kind of fuss when she boarded the plane in New York. But perhaps it’s an invented memory, created once all the events of that day became known. The plane, a Boeing 747 belonging to the then-Spanish flag carrier Iberia, took off from New York’s JFK airport with a slight delay, at 8.20pm. In many respects, it was a normal flight – just another for the IB-952 route. But at around 8am Madrid time, when the plane was already on the tarmac and headed to its gate, Captain Juan López Durán broke the news.

Isabel Almazán and one of her colleagues on that flight, Beatriz Ganuza, quoted the captain’s words yesterday, speaking to EL PAÍS in a café in Madrid. They’ve never forgotten them. “Ladies and gentlemen, I inform you that today you have been traveling with a very special companion: Guernica, which has returned to Spain today and was also on the plane.” Neither of the flight attendants had a clue – nor did most of the passengers.

At that moment, the last exile from the Spanish Civil War had landed in Barajas Airport

After the initial shock, everyone, including the two women, broke into emotional applause. It was September 10, 1981. The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco had died six years before, and Picasso’s most famous painting – one that was loaded with the symbolism of Spain’s recent history – was returning to its home country in the hold of an airplane, rolled up and stuffed into a giant cylinder weighing hundreds of kilos.

For the previous 44 years, it had been on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), patiently waiting there until Spain met the conditions that Picasso had set for its return: public freedoms for Spaniards. For some time now, Spain’s new democracy had met this condition, but the reticence of the painter’s family and MoMA’s foot-dragging delayed its arrival.

That sunny, warm morning 40 years ago was destined to be historical, because at that moment, the last exile from the Spanish Civil War had landed in Barajas Airport.

Also on the flight were the people ultimately responsible for its return. The culture minister at the time, Íñigo Cavero; the then-director of Fine Arts, historian Javier Tusell; and the deputy director of Visual Arts, Álvaro Martínez-Novillo. As the latter explained in a feature article published in this newspaper in 2016, there were a number of plain-clothes policemen dotted around the plane. Conveniently dressed like spies from a movie, complete with long raincoats, they were in charge of safeguarding the painting and reacting should there be any unexpected events. There were none. Everything went smoothly. In fact, the flight attendants don’t even remember seeing them.

Isabel Almazán holds pictures of herself in the uniform she wore at the time the painting was brought back to Spain.
Isabel Almazán holds pictures of herself in the uniform she wore at the time the painting was brought back to Spain.Victor Sainz

“Maybe we served Coca-Cola to the police-spies, who knows,” one of them explains. “But the truth is I really don’t remember. Everything was completely normal until we landed.”

The minister and the top-ranking officials must have traveled in what was then called Grand Class, the flight attendants assume. This section was located on a second floor and was where the seats could turn into beds at nighttime, after passengers had changed into the “really cute” Burgundy-colored pyjamas that the airline offered these exclusive passengers.

After the announcement by the captain, Isabel Almazán could see from the window of the plane that a real commotion was taking place at the stand where the aircraft was due to come to a stop. There were high-ranking officials, law-enforcement officers, dozens of journalists, television crews and civil guards in shirtsleeves and wearing their distinctive tricornio hats. “That was when I became aware of the importance of what we were carrying,” she explains. “For a joke, I said to a colleague, ‘Not even Ava Gardner would be received like this!’”

It was no wonder there was such a welcoming committee. The government of then-prime minister Adolfo Suárez had treated the issue as a priority case, one that would be another step – by no means the last – to closing the chapter of Spain’s transition to democracy after decades of dictatorship. That was why, Martínez-Novillo explained five years ago, the Spanish government had even threatened the MoMA with legal action should they fail to return the painting before October 25, which was the date of Picasso’s centenary.

The painting – which was conceived by the most famous 20th-century Spanish artist after he found out about the bombing of the Basque town of Gernika by the German Condor Legion during the Civil War – would finally, as was its right, be hung in a museum in the new Spain.

The two flight attendants already knew the painting. They had seen it in New York on a previous trip there. Both began to fly in the middle of the 1960s and enjoyed a great era to work as cabin crew, with good salaries and paid-for accommodation – including expenses – for two or three days before taking the return trip.

An armed civil guard keeps watch over 'Guernica,' in September 1981.
An armed civil guard keeps watch over ‘Guernica,’ in September 1981.MUSEO PICASSO DE MÁLAGA / Europa Press

Initially, the painting was installed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, an annex of the Prado Museum complex in Madrid. There is an iconic photo of the painting where it appears behind bullet-proof glass, and is being protected by an armed civil guard. In 1992, it was moved to the Reina Sofía museum and finally it was put on display without its protective glass.

In order to be closer to her family, flight attendant Beatriz Ganuza retired at the age of 55, benefiting from a perk of her airline. Elena Almazán, who was more of a traveller and something of a non-conformist, continued to fly until Iberia forced her to retire. She still has the handbag and stylish uniform she used to wear in the 1960s in her house. Both of the women are now aged 78, and yesterday, they made an emotional visit to the painting that flew with them in the hold of that Boeing 747 four decades ago.

When she left the museum, and got on the elevator, Beatriz Ganuza calculated the days and the time difference between Spain and the east coast of the United States. Later, with a tone of surprise and incredulity in her voice, she said to herself out loud: “This time 40 years ago I was having breakfast in New York!”

English version by Simon Hunter.



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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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Divock Origi delivers late delight as Liverpool see off Wolves

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Wolves 0 Liverpool 1

Divock Origi’s last-gasp strike sent Liverpool top of the Premier League with a dramatic 1-0 win at Wolves.

The substitute fired in from close range in stoppage time just as it looked like the Reds would fail to score for the first time in eight months.

He spared Diogo Jota’s blushes after the forward hit Conor Coady on the line following Jose Sa’s second-half mistake.

Chelsea’s 3-2 defeat at West Ham gave the Reds a path to the summit and they went top thanks to Origi’s late show. Resilient Wolves were left with nothing despite another battling display and sit eighth.

Liverpool had blown away the majority of their rivals this season, having scored four in each of their last three Premier League games before arriving at Molineux.

They had, simply, been too good but found Wolves at their resolute best until the death.

Only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Bruno Lage’s side prior to the game and there was strong resistance to Liverpool’s threat.

The visitors failed to find any early rhythm, thanks largely to the hosts’ determination. Aside from Leander Dendoncker slicing a clearance from Jota’s header the Reds made few first-half inroads.

Three straight clean sheets had given Wolves’ defence renewed confidence and they continued to keep it tight as Liverpool slowly began to turn the screw.

Trent Alexander-Arnold volleyed over after 28 minutes and then turned provider for Jota, who headed his far post cross wide.

Liverpool had control but only managed to open their hosts up once and, even then, Romain Saiss’s presence ensured Mohamed Salah just failed to make contact with Andrew Robertson’s low centre.

As an attacking force Wolves were non-existent. Having scored just five league goals at Molineux that was no surprise but Adama Traore, Raul Jimenez and Hwang Hee-chan carried little threat.

Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk were on cruise control and apart from Rayan Ait-Nouri’s sharp run – before he wasted his cross – there was little for Liverpool to fear.

Yet, they were still searching for a goal. Having scored in every Premier League game since a 1-0 defeat to Fulham in March more was expected after the break.

Salah’s knockdown caused some penalty box pinball which saw Thiago Alcantara twice denied but Jürgen Klopp’s men lacked the fluidity and precision to break Wolves down.

They needed a mistake from Sa to create their best opening on the hour and even then Jota missed it.

The goalkeeper raced out to the left after Jordan Henderson’s searching pass for Jota but collided with Saiss to give the forward a clear run to goal.

He advanced but from just six yards belted the ball at the covering Coady on the line.

Alexander-Arnold drove over as Liverpool’s frustrations grew and Sa denied Sadio Mane late on.

But Origi had the final say deep into added time when he collected Salah’s pass, turned and fired in from four yards.

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