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Mysteries of Time: Venice

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

A weird thing happened three weeks ago today, our first morning in Venice. Perhaps I should set this up as a puzzle, so you have a chance to figure out for yourself what happened. Maybe you’ll be able to do so more quickly than I did.

Let’s start at the beginning, with a review of what brought us to Venice. [You’re going to need some patience. It turns out that I don’t get to the puzzle for a while.] Read more…

Categories: Stupidity, Time, Travel

Loopy Lithuania

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

[Laris Karklis/The Washington Post]

I try to keep my references to Glenn Greenwald’s blog posts to a reasonable minimum, but I can’t resist this one from yesterday on the decision (reported here in the Washington Post) of the Lithuanian Parliament to investigate for a third time “reports that the CIA secretly imprisoned al-Qaeda leaders in this Baltic country.”

[I]ncreasingly, after years of issuing denials, Lithuania’s leaders are no longer ruling out the possibility that the CIA operated a secret prison in this northern European country of 3.5 million people, and that its government will have to deal with the fallout.

Last month, newly elected President Dalia Grybauskaite said she had “indirect suspicions” that the CIA reports might be true, and urged Parliament to investigate more thoroughly.

The Washington Post first revealed the CIA’s overseas prison network’s existence in 2005. At the time, it withheld the names of Eastern European countries involved in the covert program at the request of White House officials, who argued that disclosure could subject those countries to retaliation from al-Qaeda.

Greenwald contrasts Lithuania’s extremist response to that of a more enlightened nation. One example:

What sort of a newly elected President would get into office and then start demanding that actions From the Past — rather than the Future — be investigated, just because they might be “criminal”? This deeply irresponsible Lithuanian leader apparently doesn’t care about inflaming partisan divisions, and worse, appears blind to the dangers of criminalizing policy disputes. Even more outrageously, Lithuania faces one of the steepest recessions in all of Europe; obviously, this is a time, more than ever, that Lithuanians should be Looking to the Future, Not the Past. Instead, they’re wallowing in deeply inflammatory, partisan and extremist rhetoric …

What kind of crazy, purist, Far Leftist utopians are running that place? They need a heavy dose of pragmatism so they can understand all the reasons why so-called “crimes” like this can be overlooked — just blissfully forgotten like a bad dream.

In an update, Greenwald refers to a related post by Jonathan Schwarz.

Jonathan Schwarz notes that in 2005, Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Lithuania and visited a museum in Vilnius which once housed a KGB prison, where the Soviets tortured prisoners. That museum exhibits “solitary confinement rooms which were used to break down the prisoners and make them confess.” Shockingly, “the walls are padded and soundproofed, made to absorb the cries and shouts for help,” as it was the site of barbaric acts like this:

Prisoners either had to stand in ice-cold water or to balance on a small platform. Every time they got tired they fell down into the water.

After his visit, Rumsfeld released an “Open Letter to the People of Vilnius,” in which he solemnly observed that “the museum was a stark reminder of the importance of preserving our liberty at all costs.” Schwarz asks: “Did Rumsfeld Tour KGB Torture Museum to Pick Up Useful Tips?”

Categories: Politics, Torture

La Restauration Rapide

November 22, 2009 1 comment

[Sipa Press/Newscom, from WSJ article online]

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a piece on the new wave in French food, with the title ‘Restaurant Rapide’ Nation and the subtitle “As France’s frosty attitude toward fast food thaws, master chefs offer up interpretations.” In the article, we learn that

Plenty of chefs in the U.S. and France have opened bistros, brasseries and other relatively affordable alternatives to their Michelin-starred eateries. France’s master chefs now have taken the next step—designing and serving their own takes on fast food. Their interpretations are American-style lunches of salads and sandwiches, often priced as meal deals and packaged to be eaten on the run. …

“Fast food is the sector that is growing the fastest” among restaurants in France, says Claire Cosson, spokeswoman for Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, a French hospitality-industry group known as UMIH.

If only we knew. This might have come in handy. But maybe it’s not too late for Joel. He has four more weeks in France and is just an hour away from Lyon, where he can sample the food at Ouest Express:

Until last year, eating the food of Paul Bocuse, one of France’s most celebrated chefs, required a visit to L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, his restaurant with three Michelin stars near Lyon. Diners there lounge beneath chandeliers and eat spoonfuls of his famous truffle soup—at €80 (about $120) a bowl.

But there’s now a cheaper option in Lyon—twin restaurants run by Mr. Bocuse called Ouest Express.

There are no truffles on the menu at these ultra-modern eateries. Instead, Mr. Bocuse offers hot plates of salmon ravioli for €6.40, and “le César Classic” burger for €9.40, made with local beef and served with a drink and a side or dessert.

Customers carry their trays to tables arranged in a bright, airy dining room or on a sunny terrace—or they take their meals to go. After opening the first Ouest Express early last year, Mr. Bocuse opened a second location last month in Lyon’s Part-Dieu district downtown. Planning has begun for a third.

Or perhaps Joel could get back up to Lake Annecy to eat at the restaurant featured in the photo at the top, Marc Veyrat’s Cozna Vera.

(What did we eat in France? More on that, perhaps, in another post.)

Categories: Food, Restaurants

The Game, II

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

[Bob Child, Associated Press, from NYT website]

In late September and early October, I had posts (here and here) with the theme that I wasn’t ready for football. Baseball was still being played; couldn’t we wait a little longer before the onslaught of football coverage on TV and across print and web media? And why must coverage of baseball games be pushed around in favor of football? By the time we headed off in late October on our 23-day trip, my commitment to baseball was already wavering, and the idea of World Series games in November was more than I could bear. Now that we’re back, baseball is forgotten, I’ve accepted (even as the college regular season winds down) that it’s football season, and now I’m wondering why college basketball is already upon us.

Even as I was rueing the saturation coverage of football, and largely not watching it, I was paying attention to who was winning and losing. And then I remembered in mid October to follow the Ivy League race. From Europe, I would look up the weekly results, and it soon became clear that the league championship was likely to come down to last week’s Harvard-Penn meeting in Cambridge. Both were undefeated in league play (each of the eight teams plays the other seven over the course of the season), while everyone else had two or more losses. By the time they met, this remained the case: both were 5-0 in Ivy play, Brown was 3-2, and everyone else had a worse league record. With two games left, their head-to-head meeting and yesterday’s season-enders, the winner of their game last week would at least tie for Ivy champion.

Neither team had distinguished itself in non-league play. Both had lost two of three. My guess was that Harvard wasn’t as strong as its league record suggested, and even though they were playing at home, they would probably lose. Which they did. That took some of the shine off yesterdays’ re-enactment of The Game, the 126th meeting of Harvard and Yale on the gridiron.

I wrote about The Game a year ago, noting just before its start that I had discovered cable network Versus’s weekly broadcast of an Ivy League football game and anticipated watching it. I also mentioned the newly released movie — which I have yet to see — on the greatest of all Games, Harvard’s 29-29 “victory” over Yale in 1968. (You’ll recall that both were undefeated going in, at a time when Ivy football mattered. The Yale team was nationally ranked, with stars Brian Dowling — the inspiration for BD in Doonesbury — at quarterback and Calvin Hill — future Dallas Cowboy star and father of Grant Hill — at running back. They were expected to win, even at Cambridge, and win they were doing, 29-13 with 42 seconds left. For the rest of the story, see the movie.)

I arrived in Cambridge the following fall. There were great hopes for the team that year, but things fell apart quickly, starting with the hero of The Game, quarterback Frank Champi, quitting early on. Nonetheless, with the memory of 1968’s Game still fresh, I was determined to get to New Haven for the 1969 game. When Hillel, a friend in our freshman dorm, mentioned that he had a sophomore friend from his high school who had a car and was going, I accepted the invitation to ride with him, as did my roommate and Hillel’s roommate. I see now that I already wrote about this in my post on The Game a year ago, so I won’t go over old ground. I’ll just say that getting to New Haven wasn’t worth the trouble. It was cold, the game was boring, we lost, and I soon lost interest in Harvard football altogether. I only remember one game in my years there that I enjoyed, a thrilling victory over Cornell in my junior year with, as best I recall, a late winning field goal. What made the game special is that Cornell was led by the top runner in the country, Ed Marinaro. Yes, really, Ivy League football still mattered on the national scene in those days. Marinaro finished 2nd in the Heisman Tropy balloting after leading the country in rushing. In fact, he set the NCAA record for most career rushing yards, a record that looks like nothing today, since players have four years of eligibility rather than just three. He had some success with the Vikings, but perhaps became better known through his role on the TV show Hill Street Blues as Officer Joe Coffey.

So anyway, The Game was played yesterday. Just before noon I remembered that it was underway and might be on Versus. Good timing. I turned it on with about 4 1/2 minutes left and saw quite an ending. Yale, as I eventually learned, had taken a 10-0 lead at halftime, but missed a field goal in the second half. I’m not sure when, but I think in the third quarter. This opened the door for Harvard, which scored at last with 6:46 left in the game to cut the lead to 10-7. When I started watching, Yale had the ball, in position to wind down the clock. Then came the crucial play, with less than 3 minutes left. Yale was on its 25 with 4th and 22. The punter was back, but the play was a fake. The ball was hiked to someone standing just behind center, who handed off on a reverse to a player coming from right to left. He proceeded up the left side as I screamed for someone to tackle him. And someone did, 5 yards shy of a first down. Harvard recovered the ball on its 40. After a 4-yard pass and a 2-yard run, they went long for a touchdown, taking a stunning 14-10 lead with a minute and a half left. Yale had a pass intercepted, called three timeouts on Harvard’s next three plays, forcing Harvard to punt with just seconds on the clock. Yale had no time to do anything and Harvard escaped with the win.

Even though no one but alums can possibly care, the NYT is always there with coverage of The Game, presumably because it employs so many alums itself. You can read more in today’s paper.

I leave you with the lyrics to my favorite of all college fight songs, Harvardiana, written by R.G. Williams and S.B. Steel of the class of 1911:

With Crimson in triumph flashing
Mid the strains of victory,
Poor Eli’s hopes we are dashing
Into blue obscurity.
Resistless our team sweeps goal ward
With the fury of the blast;
We’ll fight for the name of Harvard
‘Till the last white line is passed
Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! (2x)

We sure dashed Eli’s hopes yesterday!

Categories: Football, Sports