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January 11, 2005

'Basilica Bar' atop St. Peter's at the Vatican


It opened on Easter Sunday in 2003, according to the Holy See press office, but word didn't get out until a few weeks ago, when an Italian newspaper's front page called it "The Holy Apostolic Cafeteria."

The bar's on the terrace of St. Peter's Basilica, at the base of the towering dome designed by Michelangelo.

It overlooks St. Peter's Square, Rome's rooftops, and the Tiber River.

Vendors sells espresso, Red Bull, ice cream, and other refreshments (none alcoholic).

The bar, which has no seating, is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the same hours as the dome.

Access by elevator costs $8.15; if you use the stairs you'll pay $5.45.

January 11, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Rambam's Ladder


Maimonides, whose epigram, "He who saves one life, saves the world," appears from time to time here in various contexts, is often referred to by the acronym Rambam (for Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon).

Almost 1,000 years ago he created a descending eight-step scale for evaluating the worthiness of a charitable act.

The top rung belonged to those who make a poor person self-sufficient; the lowest level to "he who gives with a frowning countenance," the reluctant giver.

Up in the exalted range, at the second-highest level, stood the anonymous giver, the person expecting nothing in return, not even recognition.

Julie Salamon wrote a highly-acclaimed book, "Rambam's Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give."

[via Julie Salamon and the New York Times]

January 11, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World's best grilled-cheese sandwich


Ashley Berman of Coral Springs, Florida won the grand prize for her recipe in Dupont's contest to find the very best grilled-cheese sandwich in the world.

She was awarded $10,000 and a Wine and Cheese Tour in California.

Her recipe's right here, along with all the other premier entries in the contest, which happened, completely unbeknownst to me, last year.

Memo to file: point out to my crack research team that this is unacceptable.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, grilled-cheese sandwiches.

I like mine on white bread, made with cheddar cheese, then with just the thinnest, almost invisible, layer of Maille mustard on one surface of the cheese.


The knife applying the mustard must be definite and purposeful as it makes its single pass across the cheese: to stop or backtrack is to foul the knife with melted cheese, completely unacceptable and, at least in my kitchen, grounds for immediate termination.

January 11, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Massage Pen


It's the one on the right above.

It's a real ballpoint pen with a secret feature known only to you: a massaging top, which activates when you put it against something.

The copy on the website advocates "a pressure point."

Far be it from me to add anything to the copywriter's recommendation.

The pen comes with "diagrams mapping out various spots for remedying stress."

Once again, res ipsa loquitur.

Battery-operated (batteries included); refillable; 5.5" long.


Or, if you like you can get the laughing pen - that's the one on the left, with a little speaker on top that emits a 20-second belly laugh "sure to elicit chuckles from anyone in the vicinity."

It's also $20.

Or buy them both for $34.

The choice is yours.

January 11, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Boutique Maille - fresh mustard, on tap


In 1747 Antoine Maille, a vinegar distiller, opened a store in Paris to sell vinegar and a mustard of his own creation.

In 1845 the company opened a store in Dijon.

Only in Paris and Dijon, at Maille's stores in those cities, can one purchase Maille's unique, freshly-prepared and preservative-free mustards.

Three house blends are available for tasting (and purchase): Chablis, grape juice and honey, and white wine.

Jars of pretzels for sampling line the long oak bar.

Marie Hélène Greczka, the manager of the Paris store, said, "These mustards are very special because they're very potent. They are never more than 10 days old when we sell them, and they only maintain their strength for two or three months."

After you've made your selection, it's on to the packaging: a 3.5, 7- or 18-ounce ceramic jar that will be filled, corked and wrapped in tissue.

A 3.5-ounce jar of Chablis mustard costs $12.25.

The version of Maille mustard sold in the U.S. - which consistently takes "best" in comparative tastings in various American food magazines - is a milder version of what's available in France.


The website's got lots more to tell you about their products.

In keeping with the company's ethos, seeking not to make the product wildly popular but, rather, choosing a quiet, understated boutique image, the website's not been translated into English.

Refreshing, what?

I think, in emulation, I'll not translate my site either.

Keep it quiet, under the radar, that sort of thing.

God knows, it's worked so far.

The Paris store is at 6, place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris; Tel: 01 40 15 06 00; Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.


The Dijon store is at 32, rue de la Liberté, 21000 Dijon; Tel: 03 80 30 41 02; Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.

[via Danielle Pergament and the New York Times]

January 11, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Song - by Robert Pinsky

Air an instrument of the tongue,
The tongue an instrument
Of the body. The body
An instrument of spirit,
The spirit a being of the air.

The bird a medium of song.
Song a microcosm, a containment
Like the fresh hotel room, ready
For each new visitor to inherit
A little world of time there.

In the Cornell box, among
Ephemera as its element,
The preserved bird? a study
In spontaneous elegy, the parrot
Art, mortal in its cornered sphere.


January 11, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Series 13 - Burton's bespoke snowboards


Tired of showing up at a party only to see another girl wearing your dress?

Never again, at least on the slopes, if you order a custom-built, made-to-order Series 13 Burton snowboard.

You choose from four different models (starting at $799), then pick your desired length, stance, finish, base design, and sidewall colors.

Then you select one of 12 graphic themes, and proceed to personalize your board's color scheme, logos, and text.

You can play around with your design online to your heart's content until you get it just right - there are over a million possible design combinations, surely they'll have one that appeals to you - then order it and prepare to shred.

"Each Series 13 snowboard comes with a personally-signed certificate of authenticity from Jake Burton."

I guess you could frame it, unless you thought it important to keep it on your person at all times while boarding, in case someone questions your bona fides.

I remember that when I was in high school Latin, there was a joke in the textbook - yeah, back then Latin was really a riot - that went, "Bona fides" does not mean "good dog."

I thought it was funny then, and I still do.

January 11, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wikipedia - Fast, cheap, and out of control


John Gapper wrote about the rise of Wikipedia in his weekly Financial Times column last Thursday .

He noted that this experiment in communal publishing, started three years ago, now holds 441,000 articles in English.

He drilled down on the one big problem with Wikipedia, and wikis in general: anyone can write anything on any topic, without it being checked by experts.

The anti-elitist philosophy of the Wikipedia project means that no expert is guaranteed hegemony over an uninformed amateur.

Thus, there is no assurance that, even over time, truth will triumph.

In fact, some entries seem to deteriorate with successive revisions and additions.

Gapper wrote, "The combination of the internet and Wiki software is a disruptive technology: it allows Wikipedia's enthusiasts to produce something extremely cheap (free, in fact) and good enough to satisfy many people."

So how credible is the information you get from such a resource?

Depends on what you're looking for.


Gapper believes that if Wikipedia and wikis in general can get over their inherent anti-elitist bias enough to have information vetted properly, open source will swamp traditional bastions of reference and authority.

January 11, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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