Bangkok, Dec 17 (AP/UNB) — The Philippines' Catriona Gray was named Miss Universe 2018 in a competition concluding Monday in Bangkok, besting contestants from 93 other countries and delighting her home country.
The 24-year-old Gray wore a sparkling red dress she said is inspired by a volcano in the Philippines as she was handed the crown to the delight of a roaring crowd that generally favored Southeast Asian contestants.
She said she wore red because "when I was 13 my mom said she had a dream that I would win Miss Universe in a red dress." She said her mom cried when they saw each other after she won the competition.
Gray edged out first runner-up Tamaryn Green of South Africa and third-place Sthefany Gutierrez of Venezuela. She succeeds Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa.
In the Philippines, pageants are a popular attraction, and Gray's countrymen cheered wildly and jumped for joy when she was declared the winner. Celebrations were especially buoyant in Oas town in the northeastern province of Albay, from which Gray's Filipina mother hails.
The office of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was quick to congratulate the winner. Gray is the fourth Filipina to be named Miss Universe.
"Ms. Gray truly made the entire Philippines proud when she sashayed on the global stage and showcased the genuine qualities defining a Filipina beauty: confidence, grace, intelligence and strength in the face of tough challenges," he said in a statement from the presidential palace. "In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work."
An early round of questioning touched on the issue of drugs, where Duterte's aggressive 'war on drugs' has taken thousands of lives, many in what critics charge were extrajudicial executions. Duterte raised even more controversy when he recently joked that he smoked marijuana to deal with the busy schedule of meetings with other Asian leaders at a regional summit.
Asked what she thought about legalizing marijuana, Gray said: "I'm for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use. Because I think if people will argue, then what about alcohol and cigarettes? Everything is good but in moderation."
This year's Miss Universe competition included the first-ever transgender contestant, Miss Spain Angela Ponce. She said in a video presentation that it was not important for her to win but was more important for her "to be here."
One of the few controversies of this year's contest involved Miss United States Sarah Rose Summers seeming to mock contestants from Cambodia and Vietnam over their English language skills. Summers apologized.
The finale was again hosted by Steve Harvey who infamously announced the wrong winner in the 2015 contest. Harvey joked briefly about the incident in exchanges with contestants and said "You all can't let that go" and "I'm still here."
The theme of the 67th Miss Universe pageant was "Empowered Women" and was judged by seven women including former pageant winners, businesswomen, and a fashion designer.
The contestants spent nearly a month in Thailand to compete in preliminary rounds wearing elaborate national costumes, visit famous tourist sites and even met the country's prime minister.
Milan, Dec 10 (AP/UNB) — If Italy's fashion capital has a predominant color, it is gray — not only because of the blocks of neoclassical stone buildings for which the city is celebrated, but also due to its often-gray sky, which traps pollution.
But Milan now wants to shift its color palette toward green.
The city has ambitious plans to plant 3 million new trees by 2030 — a move that experts say could offer relief from the city's muggy, sometimes tropical weather.
Some ad-hoc projects have already contributed to environmental improvements. Architect Stefano Boeri's striking Vertical Forest residential towers, completed in 2014 near the Garibaldi train station, aims to improve not only air quality but the quality of life for Milan residents.
Boeri created a small island of greenery in the heart of Milan, his pair of high-rises brimming from every balcony with shrubs and trees that absorb carbon dioxide and PM10 particles, a pollutant with links to respiratory ailments and cancer.
"I think the theme of forestation is one of the big challenges that we have today. It is one of the most effective ways we have to fight climate change, because it is like fighting the enemy on its own field," Boeri said. "It is effective and it is also democratic, because everyone can plant trees."
The U.N. climate summit taking place now in Poland has urged cities and regions to help achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement on curbing global warming, which include limiting the increase in the planet's temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century.
Also, the World Economic Forum's global agenda council has put extending the tree canopy among its top urban initiatives, recognizing that small-scale changes can have a major impact on urban areas, including helping to lower city temperatures, creating more comfortable microclimates and mitigating air pollution.
Milan officials estimate the program to boost the number of trees by 30 percent in the broader metropolitan area will absorb an additional 5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year — four-fifths of the total produced by Milan — and reduce harmful PM10 small particulates by 3,000 tons over a decade. Significantly, it would also reduce temperatures in the city by 2 degrees Celsius, they say.
Boeri said the current green canopy of the Lombardy region's capital is just 7 percent of the urban area. That's well below northern European cities like Germany's Frankfurt at 21.5 percent or Amsterdam at nearly 21 percent. It's closer to Paris at nearly 9 percent, according to the World Economic Forum's Green View Index — and the French capital itself has been battling for years to fighting rising air pollution.
By 2030, Milan hopes to increase that green canopy number to between 17 and 20 percent.
Damiano Di Simine, the scientific coordinator in Lombardy for the environmental group Legambiente, said potentially the biggest impact of the green Milan project will be to lower temperatures in a city where the nighttime temperature can be 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than in the surrounding area. City statistics show that Milan endures 35 tropical nights a year.
Because the city lies close to the Alps, Milan gets very little wind to clear the pollutants that become blocked in by temperature inversions, where a layer of cool air is trapped by a layer of warmer air.
"The lack of wind also accentuates the urban heating," Di Simine said. "It means the discomfort from thermic inversions is terrible, because the climate is very stationary. Planting trees will help this."
The project to make Milan greener includes an ambitious plan to transform a disused freight railway network into a series of seven parks, with 25,000 new trees every year. It also includes planting greenery on 10 million square meters (108 million sq. feet) of flat rooftops and planting trees in 2,300 school courtyards.
Other new green spaces already inaugurated include Boeri's Library of Trees, near the Vertical forest, which includes 450 trees and 90,000 plants on nearly 10 hectares (24 acres), including a children's playground and a dog park. The Fondazione Feltrinelli also plans to create a park of 3,300 square meters (35,520 sq. feet) with plantain, magnolia, cherry and pear trees near its new headquarters.
The Vertical Forest has attracted more than 20 species of birds, which Boeri said they did not expect. And the shade provided by the 800 trees, 4,500 shrubs and 15,000 plants mean that residents rarely have to put on air conditioning, even during the peak of Milan's clammy summers. The Vertical Forest's total greenery has the capacity to absorb 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, Boeri said.
"There are also other advantages that are less measurable but I believe that the presence of green and trees has a very important effect on health and psychological state of mind, as it has been proved," said Boeri.
The architect is taking the award-winning concept to other cities, including Paris, Nanjing in China and the Dutch city of Eindhoven.
Moscow, Nov 21 (AP/UNB) — As freezing temperatures are setting in, Russians are rediscovering an old winter staple — felt boots called valenki.
Valenki are traditional winter footwear in Russia, prized for their ability to endure frosty conditions and a dry winter, which is typical for most of the country.
Dating back to the times of nomads in the windy steppes of southern Russia, valenki didn't become widespread until the 19th century, when they started being produced on an industrial scale. They were quickly adopted by all classes and everyone wore wearing valenki — from the czar to the peasant in the most remote village.
The felt boots, however, went out of fashion in the 1950s, when Russians got wider access to warm, Western-style footwear.
These days, Russians still wear valenki on trips in the countryside, and one can spot a pair of "designer valenki" on a cold day in Moscow. The Russian military and law enforcement personnel still get them as part of their standard gear.
A recent exhibition in the Russian capital displayed historical footwear, like the valenki worn by Marshal Georgy Zhukov as he led Soviet forces throughout World War II, as well as the boots as cutting-edge fashion items.
Geneva, Nov 15 (UNB/AP) - A large, drop-shaped natural pearl pendant sold for more than $36 million Wednesday at a rare auction of jewelry that once belonged to French Queen Marie Antoinette, which Sotheby's is calling a record price for a pearl at auction.
The "Queen Marie Antoinette's Pearl," a diamond-and-pearl pendant, was among the highlight offerings on the block at the Sotheby's sale of jewelry from the Bourbon-Parma dynasty in Geneva.
Sotheby's billed the sale as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to scoop up heirlooms and jewels that have been held in the Bourbon-Parma dynasty for generations. Some of the Marie Antoinette jewelry hadn't been seen in public for 200 years — until now.
Like many of the 10 former Marie Antoinette pieces up for sale, the pendant obliterated the pre-auction estimate — in its case, $1 million to $2 million. It sold for a hammer price of 32 million Swiss francs ($32 million), but with the buyer's premium and fees, the total sale rose to more than $36.1 million.
The buyer wanted to remain anonymous, the auction house said.
All told, the Marie Antoinette pieces reaped nearly $43 million.
The diamond and pearl jewelry of Marie Antoinette that went under the hammer epitomized the aloof, pre-Revolutionary opulence of French royals brought down by the uprising. The wife of King Louis XVI, she was executed in France's revolutionary fervor in 1793.
Before falling to the guillotine, she had secretly smuggled abroad some of her most treasured possessions to her relatives amid rising the revolutionary fervor that ultimately marked the beginning of the end of France's centuries-old monarchy.
"The Marie Antoinette pendant is simply irreplaceable," Eddie LeVian, CEO of jewelers Le Vian, said before the sale. "This is about far more than the gems themselves: Marie Antoinette's jewelry is inextricably linked to the cause of the French Revolution."
The queen's jewelry also included a set of pearl and diamond earrings, a diamond brooch, and a natural pearl and diamond necklace. A monogrammed, diamond-set ring bears a lock of Marie Antoinette's hair.
Nearly all of those lots far outstripped the pre-sale estimates, a testament to the difficulty in assessing the value of such rarely available jewels.
"It was really the Bourbon-Parma factor, plus certainly the Marie Antoinette factor," said Daniela Mascetti, Sotheby's chairman for jewelry in Europe. "Prices really rocketed. Some items sold for, I think, 20 or 25 times more than the presale estimate."
Added Andres White Correns, senior director for jewelry: "We had said when we did the press conference for this sale that this was going to be the sale of this century — and I think that the results tonight prove that this is the case."
New York, Nov 14 (AP/UNB) - A solid 70 percent of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a recent NerdWallet study conducted by The Harris Poll.
But the nature of a day centered around shopping can almost inevitably lead to overspending.
Here are three ways to tell whether participating in Black Friday is really right — or actually wrong — for you.
CONSIDER WHAT YOU'RE BUYING
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is known for long lines, big crowds and low prices.
And while the shopping holiday often does deliver unbeatable deals on things like electronics, certain items are cheaper at other times of the year.
Clothing is generally a bargain on Black Friday, but some clothing reaches its lowest price off-season, according to Charlie Graham, founder and CEO of Shop It to Me, a sale alert app.
"If you're really penny-pinching, you can find better deals when items go on clearance outside of Black Friday and Cyber Monday," Graham says of some apparel.
Think buying swimsuits at the end of winter or sweaters in the middle of summer.
TIP: Consider the items you want this Black Friday and write them down. Then, check Black Friday ads to see if those products will be on sale. Retailers usually release their ads ahead of time — online, by email or in the mail. If you don't see what you want at the price you want, think about waiting to buy.
CONSIDER WHY YOU'RE BUYING
Of those who plan to shop in stores this Black Friday, 42 percent said they plan to do so because they enjoy the in-store hype (e.g., doorbuster deals, camping outside of stores the night before), according to the NerdWallet study.
Enjoying this annual tradition is one thing, but going shopping "just because" isn't always a good idea. Even if you've set a budget before putting on your comfiest sneakers and standing in the cold, you may be susceptible to making additional purchases once you're among the merchandise.
On Black Friday, retailers compete for a share of your wallet, says Jeff Inman, a marketing professor at the University of Pittsburgh and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Traditionally, retailers draw in Black Friday shoppers with a few great deals — called "loss leaders" — and hope they'll buy additional items as well. Imagine going for a TV and leaving with clothing and Christmas decorations, too.
While Inman says he hasn't always seen shoppers with huge baskets on Black Friday, he does point to toys as one category where shoppers may spring for something even if they didn't see it in a Black Friday ad.
For example, while in the store, you may come across a toy and decide to buy it for your niece for Christmas. This isn't necessarily an impulse purchase; you already planned to buy a gift for your niece. But since you didn't know the exact item you wanted to buy, he calls selecting this toy an "impulse allocation" of your holiday shopping budget.
This isn't a problem if you can afford it, but be conscious of this possibility when you step foot in the store.
TIP: Think about why you want to shop on Black Friday, and whether you're financially prepared. If you're not sure you can resist the temptation to overshoot your budget, consider skipping.
CONSIDER WHEN YOU'RE BUYING
Finally, plan your timing. With deals launching earlier each year, some Black Friday sales really happen the whole week of Thanksgiving, according to Graham from Shop It to Me.
"To compete with each other, the retailers have been pushing their sales earlier and earlier during that week," Graham says.
Because of this, sometimes shoppers can get Black Friday-level prices before Black Friday.
TIP: Although this might not be true for every product category, monitor sales in the days leading up to Black Friday for an early shot at a good deal.
TO STAY OR TO GO?
Once you decide the what, why and when of your Black Friday shopping, you'll be able to decide whether you should join the crowds or stay on the couch.