FLAT EARTH

How to needle

a Calabrian

BRAVE as a lion, the BBC, I always say, and quite fearless in pursuit of Truth. But was it really wise to antagonise the entire population of southern Italy, addicted as it is to eternal vendettas? It seems that a BBC team, intent on demonstrating the unarguable fact that the mafia- infested city of Reggio di Calabria is a dump, picked up a load of old syringes and condoms and what not, scattered them artfully about on Reggio di Calabria's main street and then proceeded to film them with every sign of verite. They were, however, caught in the act, given a good smacking by outraged locals and sent on their way. But the fallout continues. Another BBC outfit down south on a story about illegal immigrants met a particularly miserable and dishevelled Albanian who had endured hours on the open seas, and asked to interview him. He drew himself up haughtily, withdrawing the hem of his overcoat as one avoiding contamination, and said: "The BBC? The ones who planted those syringes? I'm not talking to you."

Going ape

THE remarkable thing about the mass outbreak of violent chimpanzees from an Ulster zoo last week was not so much that they escaped but what they did next. Did they pelt their keepers or push over policemen and steal their helmets or raid fruit-and-veg barrows? No. With uncanny, almost high-minded precision, they set about attacking the environment's greatest enemy, the motorcar.

No Ford Sierra parked near the zoo was safe. But how did the chimps, immured for life in their dreadful concrete compound, know the car was the thing to go for? They could not, for example, have absorbed the alarming reports from the world forest research conference in Finland this month which warns that global warming may be happening too fast for forests to adapt, and that the tree itself may disappear. Animal instinct is a mysterious thing.

The splendid anti-car manifestation came to an end only when the authorities unleashed a rain of tranquillising darts into the beasts, which is of course more or less what they have been doing to us for years as the smog gets hotter and thicker.

Vin du bays

NOW down, down, down we go into the cool caverns of the seas, where, if you're a lucky skindiver these days, you may run into 10,000 bottles of Pouilly Fume 1994. They've been submerged in crates at a secret spot 18 miles off the French coast by vigneron Jean-Louis Saget, who says that the rocking of the tides and currents, as well as mysterious influences of the sea water, will give the wine a fuller flavour and a pleasant mineral tang when they are salvaged in 1999.

"Aromatically, wine stored underwater is more complex, with a more developed bouquet. It's more mineral, one feels it has lived in osmosis with its surroundings," said Philippe Faure-Brach, a former world champion wine taster. "The one stored under earth is more fruity, with flowery notes."

1999, eh? Hmmm ... Maybe we'll be ready to forgive the French their nuclear tests and start drinking their wine again by 1999. This boycott, as I'm sure you agree, is, though necessary, a bit inconvenient at times. I keep wondering whether the English boycotted Bordeaux during the Napoleonic wars, and then realised that of course they didn't. Carnivorous English squires probably took additional relish in toasting the downfall of Boney with great bumpers of claret. On the other hand, Oddbins didn't have shelves bending under the vintages of Napa Valley and Tumbarumba back in 1815.

Hot property

HERE we are in the supermarket at Velletri, on the outskirts of Rome. Outside it's sweltering, as hot as - I don't know - southern England or somewhere. The door bursts open, a masked man comes in from the street, pulling out a gun. Everyone puts their hands in the air as he goes straight to the counter, and, ignoring the money, the champagne, picks up the electric fan from the counter and, sweating profusely, backs out towards the door and away.

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