Cultural comment: Clinton's bedtime book, Lenin cake, hot dumplings - cultural comment from world newspapers

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IN 1992, I asked Bill Clinton what book (other than the Bible) had most influenced him. After pausing for thought, he answered, "the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius". As Clinton recalls his favorite book, sentences like this (may fail to console him): "Don't consider as profitable anything that compels you to betray your given word, to abandon your honor, to give in to hate or suspicion or vilification". Marcus didn't think much of sex. In fact, he says that lust is a worse sin than anger, since the angry man at least struggles for control, while the lustful one surrenders entirely to his desire. Perhaps the most important thing Clinton can find in the Meditations is, at this point, an indication that his poll ratings may not sink too precipitously: "It is an oddity of the human species to favour those who fall."

- New York Review of Books

THE Dar gallery's director, Sergei Taraborov, has been asked twice to talk to prosecutors about a life-sized cake of Vladimir Lenin lying in state, which was put on display at the gallery and gobbled up by guests. The 52kg cake, made by artist Yury Shabelnikov, was meant to symbolize Russia's departure from the 20th century, of which Lenin was an integral part. Now a group of 20 Communist deputies has asked the prosecutor's office to see if criminal charges can be brought against the gallery. Both Shabelnikov and Taraborov said they are not worried, but added that anything could happen. "I can't make any guesses because stupidity's limits are boundless," said Shabelnikov. - St Petersburg Times

THE EYES of 80 high school students are focused on an enlarged screen, on four faces that are marked by the darkest chapter of German history. Sol from the Czech Republic, Silvia from Austria, Paula from Poland, and Bert from Germany. They are standing in for the 48,000 survivors of the Holocaust from 55 countries who have been interviewed by the Shoah foundation, which Steven Spielberg founded in 1994. It is the launch of Spielberg's CD-Rom Holocaust project "Are the Germans still monsters?" at a Berlin high school. The four "survivors" tell the stories of their lives, illustrated with photographs, newspaper cuttings, maps, videos and music. Johannes (a student) wants to know whether only Jews have been interviewed by the Shoah Foundation. "We also interviewed other surviving victims: Sinti and Roma (gypsies), homosexuals, political prisoners, and also liberators - but no perpetrators," Spielberg answers.

- Berliner Morgenpost

EDDIE IZZARD's cross-dressing is a red herring. There is much in Izzard to shake up the stand-up comedy status quo, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he's a transvestite. Izzard, amid all the hyperbolic blurbing from American critics ("Britain's special gift to stand-up!"), is trying to keep his head below the clouds. "American audiences are coming and [saying], 'I don't know what the [expletive] it's about, but he's English so it must be culture'. You know, I get an extra throw-in, being British ... People say there are different senses of humor, which I don't believe is true at all. There are subtle differences, but [in England] we don't watch The Simpsons and say, 'My God, this is so American, how on earth could it be funny?' As long as you get the reference points, it's comedy." - Los Angeles Times

IT REALLY was high time that Swaziland celebrated itself with a national arts festival ("Siyavuka", the country's first national arts festival). The country turns 30 this weekend, and the aptly named Siyavuka ("we are awakening") seems essential to provide a lyrical counterpoint to the prosaic casino-culture which is more closely associated with Swaziland's identity. However Siyavuka convincingly demonstrated that there are many more alluring reasons than jackpots and birdies to visit the kingdom. Theatre for Africa appear in the main theatre, and their show is nothing less than astounding. Everything the dancers lay their hands upon is transformed into an instrument of percussion: brooms, rocks, rubbish bins, hammers, pots, mugs and plates are all used to devastating effect. In the Coronation Park is the Amphitheatre, where the Mlilwane Surprise Band perform a rousing rendition of "Chicken Rolling in the Oven", a quaint love song with the chorus: "I remember the first time you kissed me / nice nice like a chicken rolling in the oven / your body wriggled like a snake / your taste is like a dumpling".

- Mail and Guardian (Johannesburg)

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