Woodworking: In Europe, some things are fresh, others pop up but remain stale
If the daily newspaper industry in Italy is in the sad shape we're in here in St. Paul and Minneapolis, you'd never know it. In small and large towns alike, newspapers are seemingly flourishing.
In Rosia, the tiny town near the estate where we stayed there's an entire store devoted to magazines and newspapers from all over the country, the Courierre de la Sera of Milan to the Repubblica of Rome.
They're thick and they're stuffed with news, analysis and advertisements -- my favorite was a full pager photo of actor John Travolta who wouldn't fly his jet without being accompanied by his $5,000 wristwatch.
We stayed a night at the Continental Hotel in the small city of Arezzo. In the lobby, on a marble counter, I counted nine different complimentary newspapers from all over the country.
And if you're Italian isn't up to snuff, you can also buy an English language paper, like the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune, which is now owned by the New York Times. It costs $1 more than its Italian counterparts, but it's stuffed with news from around the world.
Years back it only included business news and was aimed at fat cats on vacation worried about their investments. Now it's a full-blown paper with arts coverage, sports news and familiar columnists like David Brooks.
It's a godsend for people like us, and I thank whatever possessed young James Gordon Bennett II to do what he did those many years ago. He was the wastrel playboy son James Gordon Bennett I, owner of the New York Herald Tribune.
At a New Year's Eve Party on New York's Fifth Avenue he urinated in the fireplace. Scandalous!
Old man Bennett was so angry he exiled him to Europe. Junior moved to Paris, got bored and in 1887 started the European edition of the Herald Tribune, which lives on today even though its parent paper in New York City has been dead for years.
That of course is not to say that Italy and Europe leads the world in everything.
They lead the world in the price of gasoline -- $10 per U.S. gallon.
They lead the world in the price of a toilet in the Florence train station -- $1.30.
They lead the world in sit-down strikes, walkouts and absenteeism in the industrial area.
But Europe and Italy do not lead the world in popcorn.
This defect became apparent to us 26 years ago when we made our first visit to Portugal.
In Lisbon, we stayed at the Avenida Palace, a grand dame of a hotel that looks to be the place where Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid booked in after leaving Casablanca. Faded elegance was what it was all about.
We soon became acquainted with Pedro, the bartender. He had led an interesting life, leaving Portugal to tend bar in Batista's Cuba.
When Castro took over, Pedro left and came back to work under another dictator, Salazar. He was the cutest guy and made a mean martini.
And the snacks were free.
The first night, he brought out a beautiful platter of cured ham, delicious cheeses and olives. As a crowning touch, he brought us a bowl of popcorn.
It was stale, unsalted and must have been popped and put in a wet paper bag sometime around the American Civil War.
So we ate the cheese and ham and olives and left the popcorn, or, as Pedro would have it, "da poppa corn."
Pedro looked disappointed.
The next evening Pedro let us in on a little secret. "You a-know, onna mya day off-a, my-a wife and I make a treat-a she poppas the corn and we-a eat it right away when it is still warm. Very, very good."
Just last month, Ruth and I were in Arezzo, Italy, in the foothills of the Apennines. It's a charming little city with a hotel that encourages newspaper reading. (See above.)
We made our way through the elegant shopping district to the big town square, ringed with a portico under which we sat and ordered coffee, then a beer and a snack plate.
On that snack plate came the best salami I have ever eaten, plus prosciutto crudo sliced so thin I could see through it to Ruth.
Not included in the price, but complimentary, was...a bowl of cold popcorn, stale, unsalted, popped sometime around the American Civil War and put in a wet paper bag.
We passed on the popcorn. And, as you might expect, our waiter looked disappointed.
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