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The Independent Culture
John Major is in Washington, hoping to patch up the "special relationship" and look like an international statesman. Here's what he needs to know once he ventures beyond the corridors of power ...

Fad of the moment: Cigars, the bigger and pricier the better. This is a long-overdue reaction to the tedious anti-smoking crusade across America (even hotshot Washington lawyers have to step outside for a shifty puff - and ciggies are not allowed in the White House, on Hillary's express orders). But cigar dinners are now a regular feature at some swank hotels and clubs, featuring lavish menus and Cuba's finest at up to $125 a head.

Publication of note: The Washington Times. Forget the Post - it's prolix, drowning in political correctness and so boring it makes the New York Times looks lively. The Washington Times (owned by the Moonies) is smartly laid out, zippily written and unashamedly conservative.

Biggest shortcoming: The lack of a juicy tabloid. Nothing would liven up the place more (and deflate the overswollen egos that inhabit it) than an old-fashioned scandal sheet. Fed up with reading columnist X's insights on the balanced budget amendment or politician Y's piece on the line-item veto? How about "Newt's Naked Nights", or "My Romp with Bonking Bill"? Alas, it'll never happen. Washington takes itself far too seriously.

Most sought-after celebrity: Anyone from the OJ trial. Washington has politicos aplenty, but is desperately short of West Coast glitz. The hottest recent visitor from La La land was Kato Kaelin, bit-part actor and spaced-out Simpson house-guest, spotted at a gala dinner with the diminutive Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Of the locals, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, rates No 1, comfortably ahead of President Clinton.

Best thing in town: National Public Radio (station WAMU, 88.5 on FM). Once you get past the earnest voices of its announcers, NPR provides some of the best reporting, analysis and comment on radio anywhere - proof that there is life beyond right-wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh. Steer clear of WAMU in the afternoon, though, unless you're a C&W fan.

Most popular sport: Jogging. At 6am the leafy roads of North West Washington throb with the soft beat of trainers on tarmac. The most famous practitioner is Bill Clinton - three miles a morning in around 18 minutes. Or there's Washington's traditional pastime of power tennis, beloved of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, British ambassadors and aspiring cabinet under-secretaries.

Most hated resident (if you're white): Marion Barry (right). How on earth did this ex-alcoholic, crack-smoking, payroll-padding, semi-corrupt ex-con get to be mayor of our once-great city again - a city saddled, largely thanks to him, with a $722m budget deficit? When are the Feds going to take over? Answer: when the money runs out, in about two months' time.

Most admired resident (if you're black): Marion Barry - repentant sinner, martyr of racial prejudice, champion of the downtrodden and living proof that however far you fall, you've still got a chance. And, indeed, who but a selfless hero would want the job of running America's bankrupt capital, with Newt Gingrich and 534 self-important Congressmen all thinking they could do better?

Most popular drink: Some say martinis are making a comeback, to go with those cigars. In truth it's mineral water. Ask for wine at lunch and you're considered a licentious drunk (or a European, which for many Americans amounts to the same thing).

Idea of an exciting night: Watching re-runs of Senate debates earlier in the day on the C-Span cable network. For the really adventurous there's Ted Koppell's excellent Nightline show on ABC, but it doesn't air until 11.35pm by which time most citizens are safely asleep, resting for the next morning's jog.

Weightwatchers-not-wanted restaurant: Philomena on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, where Bill Clinton takes his gute freund Helmut whenever the German leader's in town, to indulge their shared passion for mountains of pasta. If John Major gets an invite, there's hope yet for the special relationship.

Best hotel: The Jefferson, just down the road from the Independent's office on M street, by a short head over the Hay Adams, across Lafayette Square from the White House. Both have dark wood panelling, discreet service and wonderful bars and restaurants. Visit either, and you realise why Washington, or at least the white North Western quadrant of it, is, despite everything written above, still one of the most pleasant cities on earth.

Rupert Cornwell