The arrival on Jan. 1 of the new single currency for member states of the European Union figures to be one of those milestones that historians call towering moments. That should be especially true in Italy. Oh, not because of the euro, about which many people remain dubious. But because it will mean bidding farewell to the lira, that proud symbol of Italian unity - if not inflation. So, to mark its passing, a group calling itself the Third Millennium Celebrations Committee says it will erect a "giant monument" to the lira ... out of the coins themselves.


OK, you're in Beijing and spot an otherwise poverty-stricken fellow on the street dressed in a superbly cut three-piece suit. Explanation: It may be a hand-me-down from, of all people, Chinese President Jiang Zemin. According to reports, Jiang has joined other senior government officials in donating old clothes from his wardrobe to the needy. The official Xinhua news agency says a collection center in the capital's leadership compound has received almost 20,000 garments. The government claims 30 million Chinese live in poverty. UN figures put the number at 230 million.

Highest retail rent district: East 57th Street, New York

When it comes to renting shop space, Manhattan is the world's most expensive area, followed by Hong Kong and Paris, according to Main Streets Across The World 2001's survey of global retail rents. The annual ranking was conducted by property consultants Healey & Baker and assessed rents at 221 locations in 43 countries. The five most expensive retail-rent districts and their average annual cost per square meter:

1. East 57th Street, New York $7,535

2. Causeway Bay, Hong Kong 5,630

3. Champs-Élysées, Paris 5,322

4. Oxford Street, London 4,087

5. Manezhnaya Square, Moscow 3,000

- Associated Press

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