Your Wednesday Briefing – The New York Times


It has been three months since a fire consumed the wooden attic and toppled the 300-foot spire atop the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Since then, The New York Times has conducted scores of interviews and reviewed hundreds of documents to reconstruct the missteps and how the cathedral was saved.

What became clear is just how close the cathedral came to collapsing.

What happened: A guard who responded to the fire went to the wrong building and found nothing. By the time the guard and a fire security company employee realized the mistake, the fire had been burning for more than 30 minutes.

Fighting the fire: Disadvantaged by their late start, firefighters rushed up the 300 steps to the attic only to be forced to retreat. Finally, a small group was sent directly into the flames in a desperate effort to save the cathedral.

The fallout: A bitter round of finger-pointing continues over who was responsible for allowing the fire to rage unchecked for so long. The questions are at the heart of an investigation by the French authorities that will continue for months.

Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, the first woman ever chosen to be the E.U.’s top bureaucrat, narrowly won approval from the European Parliament after her unexpected nomination as a compromise candidate.

Ms. von der Leyen, 60, the German defense minister, will begin her five-year term as European Commission president in November. She struck a triumphant and conciliatory tone in her acceptance speech: “The trust you place in me is confidence you place in Europe, confidence in a united and strong Europe, from east to west, from south to north.”

The job: Ms. von der Leyen will advance the bloc’s interests in trade talks, and she will oversee Brexit — one of the messiest and most painful events for the E.U. since it was conceived in the aftermath of World War II.

Big picture: She will take on the role as the E.U. is increasingly caught in global trade and ideological struggles involving Russia, China, the U.S. and Iran. It also faces internal divisions stoked by rising nationalism.

Election: Ms. von der Leyen emerged as a candidate only after the two top contenders faced implacable opposition. A member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, she won support from the left by promising a minimum wage and a path to a carbon-neutral Europe.

Galileo, the E.U.’s satellite navigation program, has been mostly down since Thursday — the latest mishap to befall the program since it began running in a pilot phase in late 2016.

The E.U. had billed Galileo as more robust, precise and reliable than GPS — and a way to end the bloc’s reliance on a system controlled by the U.S. military. But technical problems have raised questions over whether new satellite launches should be paused until experts find the cause of the failures.

The response: The E.U. has said that a technical incident related to the system’s ground infrastructure led to an interruption in its navigation and timing services. There was no word on when most services would be running again.

Impact: Users are unlikely to have noticed the outage because phones and other devices are programmed to use Galileo in conjunction with other services, such as GPS, Russia’s Glonass and China’s Beidou.

Six years ago, a runaway cargo train carrying more than a million gallons of fuel hurtled into the center of downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The disaster, pictured above, outraged Canadians and shined a light on the growing number of freight trains that rumble through the country’s urban centers while carrying dangerous goods.

The government vowed to fix the problem. We found that little has changed.

France: The environment minister, François de Rugy, resigned under fire for indulging in lavish dinners on the public dime. The revelations were a potent symbol of the accusation that President Emmanuel Macron is the “president of the rich.”

U.S.: The House of Representatives condemned as racist President Trump’s attacks against four congresswomen of color. The debate over Mr. Trump’s language devolved into a partisan brawl that revealed rifts over race, ethnicity and political ideology.

Crete: A man confessed to raping and killing a prominent American biologist whose body was found in a cave last week. The disappearance of Suzanne Eaton, 59, who had been in Crete for a conference, set off an international online campaign to find her.

Iran: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei escalated a bitter confrontation with the West. He promised further Iranian violations of the fraying nuclear agreement and retaliation for what he called the piracy of an Iranian tanker by “the vicious British.”

Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked the third anniversary of a failed coup with a national holiday. This year, Mr. Erdogan flaunted a special symbol of national pride: a missile defense system that had just arrived from Russia.

In memoriam: John Paul Stevens, the retired U.S. Supreme Court justice who transitioned from a Republican lawyer to a champion of the left, has died at 99.

North Korea: Using shipping data, corporate records, satellite imagery and interviews, a Times investigation tracked the circuitous routes that North Korea uses to import luxury cars and other high-end goods.

Snapshot: A push is underway to restore the Church of St. George, poised on a forested mountainside in North Macedonia. Known for its stunning frescoes, above, the Byzantine gem has been damaged over the centuries by fires, storms, two earthquakes and a faulty renovation.

Spain: The police announced the arrest of a Colombian man who they say tried to smuggle half a kilogram of cocaine into the Barcelona airport last month by hiding it on top of his head and covering it with an oversize hairpiece.

What we’re reading: This collaboration from ProPublica and The New Yorker. Lauretta Charlton, our Race/Related editor, writes: “Black poverty in America is intimately related to the loss of land. Here, one black family fights to keep theirs.”

Cook: Try this tomato-less take on pasta puttanesca with linguine, tuna and capers.

Listen: On the new version of Billie Eilish’s swinging “Bad Guy,” Justin Bieber is a Sinatra for the SoundCloud era, our critic writes.

Watch: Done with “Stranger Things”? We’ve got your next Netflix binge covered.

Go: A glorious but tattered beauty, Naples is humming with visitors. Here’s a 36-hour itinerary for the seaside Italian city.

Smarter Living: Women are sometimes worried about being “everything” to everyone: family, friends and work colleagues. But it’s possible to ditch the unrealistic expectations, do less and achieve more. First, decide what matters most, then ask, “What should I be doing to focus on it?” Find more tips in our Working Woman’s Handbook.

We also have advice for building a wedding website.

All this week, scarlet-clad teams in small boats are rowing on the River Thames in southern England. They’re counting swans.

Since the 12th century, British monarchs have asserted exclusive rights to most of the country’s mute swans. But two groups descended from London’s medieval craft guilds own swans on the Thames, and mark them to show as much.

It’s called “Swan Upping,” perhaps because the searchers “take up” the swans they find for examination and enumeration.

Swans were a medieval delicacy, prized at banquets. But these days, they are protected in Britain, and eating them is forbidden.

In 2005, the composer and conductor Peter Maxwell Davies made a terrine from a swan he said had died after flying into a power line. The police questioned him, and he pondered whether he might have to serve time “with a ball and chain in the Tower of London.”

He got off, and maintained that “making a delicious terrine” was within his rights.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— William

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the dispute between President Trump and four Democratic congresswomen of color.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Squabble (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The weekend editor of The New York Times’s Express Desk, which covers fast-breaking news, collected real-time digital newsroom communications during the New York City blackout last weekend.

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