Flat Earth

Just a little Brahms

and Liszt IF YOUR wine is not up to scratch this Christmas, or you cannot afford to pay more than a couple of quid for a bottle, don't worry: just play some classical music. A Japanese wine grower, Norifumi Shiobara of Shimano Wine Company, insists that wine is aged and improved by exposure to Bach, Schubert, Strauss, Haydn and Brahms. He can't vouch for other composers, but daily two- hour blasts from these boys have given him a vintage he is marketing as Grapevine Symphony No 201.

He turned on the music when he read that elsewhere in Japan the classics had helped gardeners to grow better vegetables more quickly. His wine vats start the day with a blast from the younger Strauss, followed about lunch time with some cerebral Bach. In the evening he winds up with some romantic Haydn or Brahms.

Pop-eyed Quayle

WHEN Dan Quayle - remember him? - visited the home of the potato in the Andes in June 1989, he and his wife were taken by a particular carving. They laughed and laughed. It was what is known in the Chilean tourist industry as an Indio Picaro, or Indian rascal. They bought one, and the American press thought it was hilarious. The hand-carved figure depicted a grinning Indian chief. Lift it, though, and out popped a disproportionately large pico.

Five years later - and after Dan told a classroom of American schoolchildren that potato is spelt with an 'e' - you can buy a particular carving in the gift shops of Georgetown in Washington.

It is of a rather pop-eyed man in a suit and tie. He has swept-back fair hair, he is grinning and his teeth look like an animal's. Lift it and, yes . . . out it pops.

It is called the Anatomically Correct Dan Quayle Doll. The Andean Indians have got their own back at last.

Crossed out

THE puritanism of Saudi Arabia's sheikhs, which requires the constant doctoring of news photographs, has caused another row. Last month saw the celebrated case of the missing wine glasses, airbrushed from the hands of Suha Arafat, wife of the PLO leader, and Dimitra Papandreou, wife of the Greek prime minister.

Now we learn that a crucifix worn by the Pope has been airbrushed from a photograph in the Saudi-backed Lebanesese magazine Al-Siyad, because Christ crucified wore a loincloth (his naked limbs should not have been on display).

The omission was spotted by Lebanon's papal nuncio, Archbishop Paulo Punte. The archbishop made a formal complaint to Lebanon's Foreign Minister, Fares Bouez, a Christian, who took the matter to the cabinet (the Pope is soon to visit Lebanon).

Our fly on the wall reported a stormy cabinet meeting last Tuesday. Mr Bouez demanded the that Al-Siyad be sued and made to publish an apology. The Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, a Muslim businessman with connections to the Saudi royal family, urged caution. The matter was set aside for later discussion, ie business as usual.

Swiss sheikh-up

CLOSER to Europe, another problem of taste. When you next visit Geneva, take a look at the telephone directory. On the cover you will see a drawing of two Arabs in flowing robes beside a limousine and the city's landmark, a fountain shooting forth a 120-metre plume of Lake Geneva water. 'Transparent petrol' the Arabs are saying to each other.

So? The cover has drawn protests from the city's very rich Arab community, the Geneva Council and Arab missions attached to the United Nations European headquarters. They say it stereotypes Arabs in the worst possible way.

At least, I suppose, they are not shown naked. Switzerland's state-owned PTT has ruled out recalling the 500,000 directories, but said it might put sticky paper over the offending parts.

A Helsinki feeling

FINNS are falling more frequently through their ice and drowning not because it's getting thinner, as we suspected last week. Businessman Peter Hogg has written to say that the increased death toll - 17 this autumn alone - has nothing to do with global warming. He puts it down to an increased rate of suicide during the long winter darkness.

Finland, he says, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and it always goes up in winter. 'For those who decide to commit suicide but wish to protect their insurance policies, falling through the ice during an early morning fish is the sure way to do it.'

Another way might be to take a walk beside a wood. Wolves apparently are running amok this winter, and have polished off an undetermined number of household pets. A report from Helsinki says packs of up to six wolves have carried off dogs, cats and possibly the odd gerbil out for a bit of fresh air.

It's not clear whether the wolves are more hungry this year than last year or whether their taste has changed. If the latter is the case it bodes well for Father Christmas, because reindeer is their usual fare.

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