Politics & Policy

Another silk purse, &c.

Friends, let me tell you about a highly unusual auction, taking place on eBay: here. The item up for bid is a baseball card — signed — featuring Fidel Castro. The proceeds from the sale will go to the Center for a Free Cuba, which, as the name will tell you, is dedicated to Cuban democracy and human rights.

Interesting story behind this. I have a friend who’s a young Wall Streeter and a freedom-lover. A hobby of his is to collect baseball cards. And this is not just a hobby, but also a form of investing.

Used to be, baseball-card companies made . . . well, baseball cards. But then they branched out into other athletes: My friend has Michael Jordan, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and so on. Many of these cards include signatures, by the way.

And then the companies branched out into world figures: for example, Orville Wright, Einstein, Edison, Neil Armstrong. My friend has all of those, too.

He also has a passel of Founders: Franklin, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Jefferson, Madison. Again, these are signed: The cards include “cut signatures,” which is to say, signatures that are taken from letters or other documents, then imbedded in the cards. I should say that my friend also has arguably the greatest American of them all (us all): Lincoln.

You may have noticed that, in listing the Founders, I didn’t mention Washington. So my friend lacks him, huh? In a way. But he has a Washington hair — two of them.

Anyway, last year, my friend noticed that Topps put out a Fidel Castro card. It shows him in a baseball cap, and is all cute and cuddly. My friend was disgusted at this sweetheart treatment of a murderous dictator. So what did he do? He bought the card. He didn’t want it in anyone else’s possession.

Then the question was, “What do I do with this card? Do I have some kind of ceremonial burning?” My friend decided against this — too much like book burning, and you can’t burn an idea. So he decided to deface the card and auction it — giving the proceeds to the anti-Castro, pro-freedom cause.

Part of his inspiration was Rush Limbaugh — who took the sow’s ear of Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats and made a beautiful silk purse out of it.

My friend has noted on the Castro card that the man is a dictator, murderer, and tyrant. He has even noted that Oscar Elías Biscet, the imprisoned dissident, won the Presidential Medal of Freedom (from GWB, of course).

I hope that this card fetches a lot of money: drawing attention to Cubans’ suffering, shaming admirers of Castro, and helping out the Center for a Free Cuba.

Again, the auction is taking place here: Godspeed.

‐In yesterday’s Impromptus, I wrote about France — specifically, the river cruise that NR just took. Before that, I wrote about the World Economic Forum conference in Sharm El Sheikh. You can find that five-part journal in the Impromptus archive.

And between France and Egypt? Some days in Florence — Italy, not South Carolina — about which I’d like to throw a few notes at you.

‐There have been some changes since I was a student there. For one thing, outside the Palazzo Vecchio flies the EU flag (along with the Italian flag and the Florentine). The EU flag — ugh. But, they chose it, I suppose. Or, if they didn’t choose it: They don’t mind much.

‐In the realm of demographics: There are many blacks in Florence now — black Africans, living and working. And many, many Chinese. That is really new. (New to me.) I was told that there is a town outside of Florence that is almost all Chinese. And they specialize in laundry.

A stereotype, maybe, but a fact.

‐Also, I saw something highly, highly interesting: Indian tourists. Never in my life had I seen an Indian tour group. But there they were, at the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a mark of the rising middle class in India. People are starting to take foreign holidays. A very, very good sign.

‐Santa Croce has changed a bit: For one thing, you have to pay to get in there. Pay? We used to just march through the front door. Now you go to a side door, forking over 5 euros.

And you can’t get close to the art, memorials, and monuments: They’re all roped off, and you have to stand sort of far away. Gotta squint, hard. Stinks.

‐Here’s something I never noticed in the adjoining Pazzi Chapel – or maybe I once knew about it, but merely forgot: a memorial to Florence Nightingale. What’s she doing there? At any rate, what a great person.

I cherish something she said. She’d directed that patients sleep outside. And someone said, “But what about the night air?” And she said, “That’s the only kind of air there is at night.”

‐And here’s a weird item to throw at you: In February, when I did my India journal (also available in that archive), I discussed what is written on bathroom doors — you know, Ladies and Gents, etc. Several readers said that there ought to be a book on that subject.

Anyway, in the Pazzi Chapel, women were going into the men’s room, and men were going into the ladies’ room. Why? Because the doors were marked Signori (meaning men) and Signore (meaning women). And those words were way too close for bathrooms that millions of foreigners use! I mean, way too close. What were they thinking? What terrible signage!

And there weren’t any male/female silhouettes . . .

‐Move, now, to the Bargello Museum — whose hit item is Donatello’s David (the bronze one, not the marble one). You know that swishy little guy? Marvelous sculpture. Anyway, he wasn’t there. Or rather, he was being worked on, being restored, in full view of the public. They’re doing this in Florence now: restoring popular works of art in public.

Donatello’s David looked really, really small, down off its pedestal. It was lying on its stomach (so to speak — it was really suspended in midair, face down). And it was surrounded by what looked like medical equipment. This could have been a hospital operating room.

‐What else do I have for you, Florence-wise? Well, saw an interesting sign at the Anglo-American Book Exchange: “Weak Dollar Remedy! 15 percent discount on all books imported before 2008.”

Yes, that’s what we need, over there: weak-dollar remedies. Such a shame.

‐Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed much since my students days: You spend a day in Florence, you feel like you’ve smoked three packs. Everyone, but everyone, smokes. I remember thinking, “It’s as though the constitution required smoking.”

‐A few years ago, I wrote some notes from Prague, or about Prague — and I said what a surprise it was to find a superb jazz ensemble on the Charles Bridge (all Czech). Might have been in Preservation Hall.

Well, there was another superb jazz ensemble in Santa Croce Square — this one a trio, composed of fiddle, bass, and a strange, large soft-percussion instrument I had never seen before. Guy used two double-mallets. This trio called itself “The Gipsy Show.” And they were marvelous. You should have heard them do up a Brahms Hungarian Dance.

The faces of their hearers reflected joy; the faces of the musicians reflected joy, too. A neat, unexpected experience.

‐Finally, I went into an “artisanal” ice-cream shop — it was simply calling me — and had their peanut ice cream. Yes, peanut ice cream, and it was ambrosial. I of course thought of WFB — who would have loved it. Wherever we went, he looked for coffee ice cream. I introduced him to Coffee Heath Bar Crunch (from Ben & Jerry). But this peanut ice cream? Some seriously good and unusual stuff . . .

‐Let me slip you a quick concert review: of the Met Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, in Carnegie Hall. There was a piano soloist, Jonathan Biss. The review appeared in the New York Sun, and is found here.

‐Last, I want to leave you with some aw-making pictures. Our art director, Luba Kolomytseva, and her husband, Yuri, have a three-year-old son, Ethan Anton. (They also have an older daughter.) At their house the other day, a little fawn was left — just temporarily — by its mother. Would you like to see two snaps of Ethan and the fawn? Click here and here.

And please don’t say I never did anything for you . . .

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