FLAT EARTH

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Sip of Pinochet leaves bitter taste

IT'S A long way from the fashionable haunts of West London to the frowning towers of Canary Wharf, so this piquant tale reaches us rather late, but we'll pass it on just the same. Very smart restaurant gets a phone call from the security services, booking two tables, one for a most important person, the second for his four minders. "Uh huh, that'll be Salman," say the staff to themselves and think no more about it. Then one of the chefs, a South American, happens to look out of the kitchen and almost bursts into tears: he has been lovingly sending forth his best dishes not to the beleaguered novelist, but to the man he most loathes in the world, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile. And it's too late even to refuse to serve him further. With every sign of satisfaction, the General is wiping the last drips of a summer pudding's juices from his pitiless jaw ...

Just a leg-pull?

THIS IS not the time to make light of affairs in Bosnia, but a new snippet of information about the sinister and absurd Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, is worth recording. He is not, it seems, just a Serb nationalist, but a Montenegrin Serb nationalist. The difference is perhaps equivalent to that between a British patriot and an Ulster Orangeman.

Marko Vesovic, former friend and colleague and now a Serb professor of literature, who has stayed on in Sarajevo, tells Newsweek that the poetical warlord saw the light when he returned from a sojourn in Belgrade. He declared that he had become a "Montenegrin Fascist". The Montenegrins were the supreme race, he annnounced, "because they have the longest thighs in Europe".

Zedongs of praise

IT'S A tough business being an atheist these days. Look at the aged rulers of the People's Republic of China. They undertake a Long March, hold a revolution, liquidate the bonzes, priests and shamans and then inculcate the masses in the manly doctrine of dialectical materialism. What happens the moment they turn their backs? Thousands of farmers in Hunan province invest pounds 1.6m and build a huge temple dedicated to the worship of Mao Zedong himself, in which they kowtow before images of the old brute set up amid shadowy clouds of incense.

The authorities have finally rumbled this, stepped in and sent the stubborn rustics packing. But, reluctant actually to tear down icons of the Chairman, they are clearly puzzled as to their next step: "The building looks very like a Buddhist temple," said a spokesman. "We are thinking of turning it into an old people's home."

Activists gopher it

A CANADIAN museum featuring animals dressed in clothes has raised the hackles of British animal rights activists. The Gopher Hole Museum in the village of Torrington in Alberta is to display 30 gophers dressed as postmen, doctors and even ice-hockey players beside scale models of the village's main buildings. Visitors will also be able to peer through "gopher holes" at scenes of gopher families celebrating birthday parties and enjoying Christmas dinner.

Unfortunately all these small animals will be dead. Living gophers, though a greater attraction, proved unco-operative, not holding their arms still while being dressed, and flinging away their postbags. So the museum shot them. At least I assume that was the sequence of events. Albertans, after all, are used to executing gophers for indiscipline, especially digging holes in which horses break their ankles.

"They also eat grain in the bins as well as in the field and when they come into town they raid gardens. They're a pest," Torrington tourism committee member Alice Valente tells us.

But Toni Vernelli, campaign co-ordinator of the UK chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the gophers should be relocated or given birth control hormones.

"We're against killing them even as a means of pest control, let alone to be put in a museum," she said. "It's tasteless." The group intends to march on the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square if Canada'does not act on their demand that the museum be abandoned.

Up honey creek

RARELY do we agree with the government of Iran, but its decision to ban the literary magazine Takapou for "publishing immoral material" caused us no marked dismay. It gave offence by publishing a poem by one Reza Barahani which included a line about a bee, calling its honey "excrement". This is a word considered unprintable in Iran. Now if 59-year-old poets are going to go using the unprintable term for excrement to describe honey, where does that leave people who want to refer unprintably to bees' excrement?

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