Flat Earth: Po-faced Bossi

Italy seems to be suffering from a collective sense of humour failure over Umberto Bossi. He is the man who wants to split away the richer north from the rest, but since he can't find any linguistic or ethnic borders for the proposed independent nation of "Padania", it has been delineated in socio-economic terms, which might or might not take it almost as far south as Rome.

Lacking any domestic examples for what he is trying to do, Bossi has borrowed liberally from abroad, claiming he has adopted Gandhi's non-violence and William "Braveheart" Wallace's thirst for self-determination. There's a new movie about Michael Collins? Enlist the Irish champion as well!

Bossi has taken Hindu veneration of the Ganges as a model for "mystifying" the Po, Italy's longest river. As you read this, a bottle of water from its source is being ceremonially carried down to the mouth. Today a manifesto will be read out in Venice, Padania's putative capital, which plagiarises the American Declaration of Independence.

Ludicrous, isn't it? When the Po-bottling plans were announced to the foreign press in Rome last week, they fell about. "You may laugh," protested Bossi's deputy, Roberto Maroni, "but what's missing from politics these days is symbolism." This simply made them roar all the louder, to the discomfiture of Maroni. Like other Italian politicians, he is used to gentler handling from local hacks.

Surely this is the problem. People like the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, who says Bossi poses the danger of another Yugoslavia, are simply giving him the importance he craves. Better to poke fun, like the author of a Neapolitan T-shirt which says "And God created Padania. Then, realising his mistake, he created fog."

Island of dreams

When in Japan one hears an awful lot about tatemae and honne - so much so that I found myself dreaming about them in my jet-lagged sleep. The former is the outward appearance every good Japanese presents to all but his intimates; only they would be privy to the latter, his inmost self.

Having heard these terms again and again during my visit - no explanation of Japan ever omits them - my sleeping subconscious created two islands, Honne and Tatemae. The inhabitants of one were raving extroverts, while their opposite numbers were pathologically inner-directed. Between them was a strait which none had ever crossed.

I related this to our man in Tokyo, Richard Lloyd Parry, who faxed me excitedly the other day that Honne had been discovered! It is in the Gulf of Tonkin, near Thanh Hoa in northern Vietnam. Admittedly it is called "Hon Ne", which has no particular meaning in Vietnamese, but, he tells me, "reports speak of its people being disarmingly frank about their inner feelings".

Anyone seen Tatemae? You should look out for an island full of people obsessed with surface and show: perhaps it is an ancient name for Ibiza or Mustique.

Brassica basics

We wait anxiously to see the effect of this summer's drought on the French wine crop, but by all accounts the weather was perfect for cabbages. Sauerkraut producers are promising a vintage year, we are told.

But Koreans, those other great cabbage-eaters, would be contemptuous to learn that sauerkraut is left to ferment in underground vats for only one night. Their supreme national delicacy, kimche, is not considered fit for consumption unless it has been interred with industrial quantities of chilis and garlic for at least a month. True connoisseurs - those who make a ride on a Korean train such a memorable experience - would keep it there the whole winter.

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