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January 18, 2004 Odds and Ends

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Selected items from the daily weblog (blog) As seen from Just Above Sunset -

Notes on new commercial ventures...



This probably needs no comment.  Text from the website:




saddamsand.com offers you the opportunity to own a piece of Iraqi and international history.  We traveled to al-Dawr village, some 180 kilometers to the North of Baghdad, to the tiny farmhouse owned by a farmer called Jasem al-Namash.  The underground chamber the former Iraqi leader had secreted himself in was 1.8 meters by 2.4 meters deep, with enough space for a person to lie down, and an air vent and extractor fan. Less than a hundred feet away, a recently disturbed and hastily dumped pile of sand is the only clue to the hurried origins of Saddam's final hiding place from his American pursuers.


saddamsand.com has produced a limited edition commemorative presentation encompassing a small sample of sandy earth excavated from the hole that was Saddams last hiding place.  Only 1,000 of these historical and unique pieces will be produced.  Each is mounted on a smart wooden base, complete with a brass plaque and inscription stating:



This unique piece also comes with a certificate of authenticity from a leading regional geologist, stating that the piece is genuine and actually from Al-Dawr.  This is based upon geological and actual material evidence provided by saddamsand.com.  This unique historical treasure is yours for just $25.00 plus post & packing and will be one of only 1,000 pieces produced by saddamsand.com.



The end of the world?  No.

It's just time to teach those foolish French a thing or two about the good life.


How so?  See this item from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection: CAFE PURISTS FROTH AS STARBUCKS HITS PARIS


PARIS, Jan 11 (AFP) - Paris's cafe culture comes under assault with the opening of France's first Starbucks this week - but besides the purists does anyone really care?

The city that invented the art of whiling away a morning over a tiny cup of the strong and black - home of Les Deux Magots, Flore, Lipp, Le Procope, Le Select and a thousand other cafes - is bracing itself for a taste of the global brew.

After long hesitation the Seattle-based multi-national is taking the plunge into a market that is not quite like anywhere else. "It is with the utmost respect and admiration for the cafe society in France that we announce our entry," said chairman Howard Schultz at the announcement of the planned opening in September.


So, if you were in the Opera Garnier area Friday, after you dropped by the big American Express office to hear some real English and think about Cary Grant and George Kennedy duking it out on the roof of that place in the movie Charade, and after you'd wandered up to les Galeries Lafayette Haussmann to pick up some GAP jeans, you could, according to the AFP, watch the locals "rushing to work in Reeboks clutching the cardboard froth-pot marked with the world-famous green-and-white mermaid."  The new Starbucks is, by the way, opposite the old Air Algerie building.



"Every year the number of Starbucks around the world is doubling, but I hoped that here we were protected.  It is the standardisation that I hate.  Soon every high street in every city in every country in the world is going to look exactly the same," said Gilles Wallon, a 22-year-old journalism student.

Some take refuge in the hope that the venture will fail. According to Bernard Quartier, who represents cafe owners at the Union of Hotel Industry Trades, "I don't believe this concept is going to work because nothing can replace the conviviality and sociability of the French café."


Well, we'll see about that.

Will Starbucks "serve bucket-loads of the same jus de chaussettes - or sock juice - which the French believe is the staple of all American breakfasts."

Will it matter that smoking is strictly forbidden in and around this new Paris Starbucks?  Maybe.  The French do smoke quite a bit, even with their new sky-high taxes on tobacco.

Here's the AFP take:


But if Starbucks-bashers probably outweigh the Starbucks-pushers, both parties are vastly outnumbered by a third group: the non-committal, the non-ideological and the purely curious - Parisians who will take to the new arrival because it is convenient, comfortable and above all new.


AFP quotes that journalism student: "It doesn't matter what I think because I know Starbucks will be packed out when it opens.  People will go there because they want the image. T hey want to think they are in an American movie or an episode of 'Friends.'  They'll react in the same way here as they have done everywhere else."

And they quote one Maxime Switek; "To me it is puzzling and almost insulting that foreigners should think it a good media story that Starbucks is coming to France.  Why should we be regarded as different from anyone else in the world?  It's like you think we're freaks."

Ah yes, and AFP also notes that the traditional café places are in decline.


While the mythical names such as Les Deux Magots and Cafe Flore are now over-priced museum pieces, at the other end of the scale many Parisians lament the dirty, cigarette-strewn dives that many of their corner "troquets" have become, as well as the almost legendary ill temper of the staff.


Well, what about the dubious charm of all that?


We Americans want Paris to be, well, Paris, when we arrive.


We don't want it to be Seattle.


It seems the French don't care for such silly nostalgia.




Well, what comes next?


Try this:

Coffee-Flavored Steak?
Tuesday, January 13, 2004


SEATTLE (Reuters) - The city that spawned America's obsession with strong, dark coffee is giving locals a popular new coffee-flavored steak, even while the mad cow scare that started in Washington state is putting some people off beef.

Rippe's, a local waterfront steak and seafood restaurant, began serving filet mignon steaks dusted with Starbucks Corp.'s dark espresso blend a few weeks ago and now has a runaway hit on its hands.

"The first night we tried it, about a third of the menu sold was the steak," said Chad MacKay, whose family runs several steak joints in the Seattle area.

MacKay said that the $29 steak, now dubbed the Seattle Signature Steak, was the brainchild of a waiter and a chef.

Despite being rubbed with coffee grinds before grilling, the 12-ounce steak, although a bit crunchy, carries only a subtle whiff of coffee flavoring. ...


Coming soon to Paris and everywhere else?