Reporters on the Job

AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY: With the "towelgate" political scandal raging in Mexico over a purchase of $400 towels for President Vicente Fox's remodeled residence (this page), the Monitor's Howard LaFranchi decided to take advantage of some shopping with his family to do his own investigating.

"We were in a couple of department stores over the weekend, so as we walked by the bed and bath departments I asked sales clerks if they could show me any $400 towels. One clerk just responded flatly, 'Senor, a $400 towel does not exist.' Another woman started laughing and asked if I was shopping for Los Pinos, the Mexican White House."

"I wasn't surprised. One Mexican friend said he heard that some Mexican journalists called up Bloomingdales in New York to see if they had any $400 towels, and they didn't either."

TAKE TWO: Lucian Kim first witnessed the Berlin Wall on his first visit to the divided city in 1988. Like everybody else, he never imagined it would fall a little less than a year later. "The brusque border guards with dogs who entered the train, and the concrete, barbed wire, and warning signs seemed totally immovable," Lucian says. Two years later, on his second visit, he was riding a bicycle along a mound of pavement where the wall once stood. "Since then the face of the city has changed completely - and what makes living here so exciting is that the project of Berlin is still unfinished," Lucian says (page 7).

"Still, I'd say that what you see is mostly cosmetic. As soon as you begin to talk to locals, you realize that the so-called 'wall in the heads' is still alive," Lucian adds. "A common time measurement here is: 'before/after the fall of the wall,' much like BC/AD."

CULTURAL SNAPSHOT

SUPERCHARGED CAR: The KAZ, an electric limo, had its home debut yesterday at Japan's Keio University in Kawasaki. The 22-foot, eight-passenger vehicle can cover about 180 miles on a one-hour charge of its lithium-ion battery. It was developed under the leadership of a professor of environmental information.

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