Flat Earth

Colombia gets taste for eating a la cartel

POLITICIANS and press alike have been making a meal out of Ernesto Samper's troubles over alleged contributions to his 1994 presidential campaign from Colombia's unsavoury Cali cocaine cartel. So, too, has one restaurateur in Bogota. The menu at the ''8,000'', named for the file number of the Samper investigation, features a rather personal assortment of dishes.

There is, for example, ''Tongue in Botero Sauce'', named for Fernando Botero, the campaign manager who broke a five-month silence to say that Mr Samper had personally approved the acceptance of drugs-money donations. Pasta lovers prefer ''Lasagna Santa Cruz'', a slippery piece of work named for Jose Santacruz Londono, the Cali cartel's No 3 man, who slipped out of a maximum-security prison last month.

Most popular, though, is ''Carne Asada Samper'', a broiled beef delight reminiscent of the scandal in which Mr Samper - a tough and overweight hombre - is embroiled. The beef is ''fatty'' and must be bludgeoned into tenderness, the chef says.

Finn skin frenzy

IT SEEMED like a hot idea at the time: a mixed sauna at a Finnish sports centre. But things got a bit too hot in the town of Toolo. ''Unfortunately, a few men could not control themselves," said Kirsi-Marja Mustakari, the manager of the centre, and couldn't look without attempting ''skin contact''. She put up a low wall to separate the sexes, but the pests hopped over it. A higher, glass one was built; some men tried to scale that too. How to slow them down? ''If this goes on, we may have to electrify it.''

Rome left unrobed

ITALY is known for parliamentary crooks and quality clothing. Now, the two have come together, our man in the Montecitorio cloakroom reveals. A phantom coat-snatcher has penetrated the baroque corridors of the Chamber of Deputies, making off with some fine overcoats.

Oddly, the victims are all from the centre-left. The latest was Barbara Palombelli, of the ''ideologically impeccable'' La Repubblica and wife of Francesco Rutelli, Rome's mayor. She lost a down coat, a Christmas gift, and had to shiver all the way home on her moped. One of the more progressive Christian Democrats, Sergio Mattarella, has twice had to replace his elegant loden coat.

Our trenchcoated spy wonders: is all this thievery a conservative's expropriation of proletarian property, or simply proof that Italy's left-wingers, for all their talk of working-class solidarity, actually have the flashiest, most expensive clothes in town?

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