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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 9, 2006


SMELLY HOTELS are becoming popular since the Hyatt Park Vendôme in Paris hired perfumer Blaise Mautin to turn the hotel’s atmosphere and interior into “a signature fragrance… as essential to the hotel’s identity (as) its modern aesthetic.” Combining 18 ingredients (including patchouli, extract of sweet Brazilian oranges and sandalwood), the final aroma impregnates the premises of six other Park Hyatts around the world and guests at other upscale hotels in Tokyo, Monte Carlo, Calcutta, Hong Kong, and London are greeted with signature fragrances in what’s been termed “sensory branding.” Ingo Schweder, director of the Mandarin Oriental’s spas, says: “Smell is under-leveraged, and because of the overload from sight and sound, people are more receptive and more sensitive to communication via scent.”

PATTI BOYD, a young Eric Clapton groupie back in the Sixties, married George Harrison after meeting him on a movie set. The marriage unraveled due to her husband’s infidelities and she went back to Clapton. Her autobiography — a story of “drama, struggle, and ultimately affirmation according to Headline Publishing’s Val Hudson — will be “the most exciting, talked-about publishing sensation of 2007.”

JAMES RANDI HAS BEEN trying for years to give away $1 million to anybody who can produce evidence of any “paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” After screening possible claimants with a preliminary test, the Florida-based James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) steps aside while an objective panel evaluates the subsequent performance. “The only thing JREF asks of you in defending your claim” wrote the Skeptical Inquirer, “is to demonstrate it.” The Amazing Randi, as the stage magician is professionally known, reports that although he’s been assailed by so-called psychics, dowsers, diviners, just plain fakers, and even a fellow who claimed that he could glow in the dark, so far nobody has even passed the preliminary test. “I’m always ready for a surprise,” says Randi optimistically.

ANTICIPATING NEXT YEAR’S blanket ban on public smoking, the British American Tobacco Company is promoting Snus, a form of snuff sold in teabag-like pouches to be chewed in the mouth. Safer than smoking tobacco but still reputed to cause oral cancer, Snus is currently banned by the EU which nevertheless has promised to review its stance.

IN HIS NEW BOOK, Our Inner Ape the Dutch primatologist Frans De Wall continues to point out — as in his previous books such as Chimpanzee Politics — the parallels between chimp behavior and our own. For them, de Waal explains “tongue-kissing… is an act of total trust. The tongue is one of our sensitive organs and the mouth is the body cavity that can do it the greatest harm.”

ADD LEGAL MOONSHINE to the roster of drinks available in North Carolina since Piedmont Distillers’ four-man staff began to turn out 300-gallon batches of 80-proof Catdaddy. “It’s corn-based, old-style authentic” claims Piedmont owner Joe Michalek, 38. “Every batch is born in a small copper pot, just like it has been for generations.” What’s the difference between legal and illegal moonshine? “We pay taxes” says Michalek.

A PIANO LEFT IN THE STREET accidentally in Sheffield, England, has not been stolen or vandalized, in fact it’s remained there to play by the mailman and anybody who happens to pass by. Douglas Pearman, the original owner who left it there when he couldn’t get it up the stairs into his new apartment, hopes other cities will copy. “We’d like to trade unwanted pianos with people prepared to be street piano stewards” he says, and his cousin Hugh adds; “Perhaps one day street pianos will be a familiar sight everywhere.

THE VISION OF BUILDING a staircase to the stars always seemed far-fetched until recently when the NASA-backed US Spaceward Foundation launched a contest to build a space elevator that could carry a cable car up to a sky hotel 22,000 miles from the earth. The cable, made of newly-invented carbon nanotubes, would be attached to a satellite.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Britain’s Labor government spent more than $2 billion on ‘consultants’ last year, many of whom charged almost $5,000 a day for their advice. What do government departments actually do if so many of their plans come from outside?… Britain’s richest teenager Daniel Radcliffe, 16, received $200,000 for the first Harry Potter film, $13 million for the latest…. All is ephemeral — fame and the famous as well declared Marcus Aurelius…. “American movies today are aimed at three kinds of audiences: kids, cokeheads, and those seeking any kind of loud and vulgar stimulation with which to fill up a gaping inner emptiness for a couple of hours.”Michael Potemra in National Review…. If your car could go straight upwards, says the astronomer Fred Hoyle, space wouldn’t be remote at all — only one hours’ drive away…. London publisher Headline plans to draw attention to its books next year by making them slimmer than, and taller than, existing formats… A new mini espresso-machine in a leather case plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter socket. Cost: $1,000… Venice authorities, studying a $125 million plan to pump millions of gallons of water into the sand below the city hoping to stop it sinking any further, was warned that the sand would rise at different levels and damage scores of buildings. One expert called the idea  “science fiction….” “Don’t go into prostitution if it’s your last resort or if you’re lazy” advises Tracy Quan whose bestseller Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl went into nine printings and will now become a film. “You really shouldn’t smoke if you’re a call girl and you shouldn’t drink on the job. But personally I do like a glass of dry, white wine; it’s my only vice….” On sale at some stationers: antiversary cards for bitter folk who seek to celebrate the date of their divorce…. “…There is more to life than increasing its speed” suggested Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)