FLAT EARTH

States of

incomprehension

THE TAPAS craze has finally reached America, but a certain amount of social confusion comes in its wake. People there have been puzzled by the tone of cold refusal which sometimes meets an invitation to get together at a tapas bar. To the untrained American ear, it seems, the word "tapas" sounds much the same as "topless".

And cultural faultlines could also be felt trembling in Cairo in the last month. We were surprised to learn how the new McDonald's branch there cashes in on the Ramadan fast, which ends at dusk with the iftar meal. "Have a McIftar!" shout the signs under the yellow arches. "It's anything you want, plus a free soup," said a waiter.

The Dali news

LAST WEEK it was the French shellfish mountain, with oysters weighing up to 1lb a piece. Then came the announcement of a new motor fuel in Australia made from coconut oil which will work in a diesel engine, but smell like hair oil. Hot on the heels of that comes news from China, where two square miles of trees were inexplicably chopped in half within a few minutes. All were cut down by what eyewitnesses described as "a train hanging in the air," according to the report.

Being the sort of column that detects the deep connection between events, we can safely say that on this one, er, we're stumped. Still - giant oysters, sweet-smelling traffic jams, trains in mid air . . . they all have a nicely consistent surreal quality, to the point that you could argue that the surrealists weren't surreal at all, but simply peered further into the future than everyone else.

Whore the merrier

NOW you may think, and I may think, that foreign correspondents lead lives of glamour and ease, but they oddly enough never seem to think so, preferring to stress the rigours, even the squalor, of life on the road. And, well, sometimes they have a point.

Two colleagues now happily back in London tell of booking into a Luxembourgeois hotel which seemed more horrible than usual, with murky bedrooms, shared bathrooms and the distinct impression that the place was somehow related to the whorehouse next door. They eventually went down to settle that question with the desk. "Are you connected to the brothel next door?" they asked.

"Certainly not," said the receptionist, bridling at the suggestion. "This is an entirely separate brothel."

Lange tongued

FROM the Tribute Through Clenched Teeth Department: When David Lange, New Zealand's former prime minister, announced he was leaving politics last Thursday, commentators and politicians queued up to praise his achievments and his wit. Finally the present PM, one Jim Bolger, less than silver- tongued himself - and described once by Lange as having "the breadth of vision of a horse with blinkers and the tolerance of the Inquisition" - was obliged to join the chorus.

"He's a very colourful speaker. I'm sure he'll be missed in terms of his flashes of wit. Which are quite spectacular. At times," he said.

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